Moana Pasifika's Christian Leali'ifano excited to face former side

Christian Leali'ifano always knew he would have to play against the Brumbies at some point.

But the star signing for Moana Pasifika's inaugural Super Rugby Pacific campaign didn't think it would be in week one.

"There's no hiding now," he joked over the phone from Canberra, where he is in the process of packing up his life before making the big move to Auckland with his family.

"It will be cool - I'm really excited that it's going to be round one and first game for Moana and who better than my old team.

"It's a club that's been a big part of my life and a club that's always going to be really special to me as well."

The draw for Super Rugby Pacific was unveiled this week, with Moana Pasifika to kick off the revamped competition on 18 February at Mount Smart Stadium.

Head coach Aaron Mauger said they were grateful to be chosen to host the opening match of the competition.

"It's another step closer for us having a look at the draw and start to map out our season in a little bit more detail," he said.

"It's a real privilege to be opening the season up at Mount Smart in front of our fans so we're looking forward to it.

Moana Pasifika will travel across town in round seven to take on the Blues at Eden Park.

Mauger had plenty of success there in his playing days with the Crusaders and All Blacks and is backing Moana Pasifika's fan base to turn out in big numbers.

"The support we've had already from our Pasifika community and just the rugby community in general - particularly around the Auckland area - has been outstanding," he said.

"It's a real credit to everybody involved in our organisation and in particular our commercial team and the girls who have been pumping out our social media and the strategy they have used has been outstanding.

"We really feel like we've connected well with our fans so far - it would be nice to connect in person through some community engagement in pre-season. Hopefully we can keep growing those numbers and whether we're playing at Mount Smart, in that Auckland area or anywhere around New Zealand it would be nice to see them all follow us and have that support on the sidelines."

Christian Leali'ifano has still been visiting Brumbies HQ to receive medical treatment and confirmed the banter had already begun in the lead-up to opening night.

"I went in to see the doctor yesterday and he sort of mentioned before the announcement that it was possibly Brumbies in Round One and I was sort of joking about it a little bit," he laughed.

"There's been a little bit of banter - even some of the boys texting me saying 'Round One, I'll see you then'. I was thinking nah and then the draw came out and surprise surprise: we're on."

The Auckland-born playmaker made his debut for the Brumbies in 2008 and spent more than 10 years at the Canberra club across two playing stints.

But the 34 year-old said he was looking forward to moving back to Tāmaki Makaurau with his family and being able to represent his Samoan aiga.

"It's starting to feel really real," he said.

"When you sign a contract and you're part of a new team and then you see fixtures come out and things starting to be put in place. All my family is starting to sort of look at flights to be able to get over to New Zealand and check out the first game. It's exciting times and we can't wait."

Leali'ifano is excited by the squad that has been put together by the Moana Pasifika coaching staff, including a heap of fresh young talent and some familiar old heads.

"I know Henry Stowers and Solomone Kata from their time here at the Brumbies - I hadn't played with them but I trained alongside Solomone in 2020 when I was back as injury cover," he said.

"Jack Lam is one of my best mates I've known since I was 14 - Manu Samoa stalwart and former Hurricane and nice to have him back in New Zealand and obviously he's been playing for Waikato in the NPC. I'm excited to see them do well in the final against Tasman and there's a few teammates in there as well.

"I've been really impressed with the squad they've put together. I'm excited to contribute and get to know a lot of them and connect with them as well so we can hit the ground running."

Moana Pasifika will be based at Mount Smart Stadium for their inaugural campaign but Aaron Mauger, who has Samoan, Tahitian and Cook Island heritage, said they hope to take a game to the Pacific Islands in 2023.

"We'd love to get up there if we could but from discussions so far I think it's going to be a bit of a challenge to get up to either Samoa or Tonga," he said.

"Definitely for the following year I know that's a big part of the plannings. If our commercial team and the Board can wave their magic wands and make that happen for this year that would be awesome but I think it's highly unlikely at this stage."