'Now or never': Pasifika side hits out at New Zealand Rugby's 'shady' Super Rugby snub

A Pacific Island venture has expressed frustrations after being left out by New Zealand Rugby from next year’s Super Rugby competition.

NZR confirmed the Herald‘s report that the hugely popular Super Rugby Aotearoa will return next year, with the addition of a final, and the hope of then staging crossover matches with the five Australian teams.

The NZR board opted to reject the addition of a Pasifika side next year due to concerns around its immediate competitiveness in such a compressed timeframe, and apparent insufficient corporate support to prove a self-sustainable future.

The national body will, however, continue to engage separate bids from Moana Pasifika and Kanaloa Hawaii for one of three additional teams from 2022.

However, Kanaloa Hawaii chief executive Tracy Atiga is adamant her team is ready to go for next season and called out NZR’s “shady” and “challenging” bidding process.

“We’ve got a facility and stadiums, it’s just a matter of getting the big tick to go ahead,” Atiga told Newshub.

“What we need is something in writing that says a five-year licence, so our investor groups and our sponsors can say ‘great we’re on board’.

“The bidding process was difficult because we only had an eight-day turnaround to put together a bid.”

Atiga says she’s unsure where her team, which is backed by former All Blacks Jerome Kaino and Joe Rokocoko, stands when it comes to joining the competition.

“During the eight weeks we’ve been negotiating back and forth, I don’t think there’s been much transparency around which group progressed and which group hasn’t.

“From what we know we’ve all progressed, and that’s a bit of a strange one for a tender bid. Usually you find out halfway through whether you’re a preferred provider or not and then you have a bit more leverage to work with the group, but that hasn’t happened in this case.

NZR are looking to add a “minimum” of three teams from 2022, with several contenders in the mix: Kanaloa Hawaii, Moana Pasifika, Fiji Drua, a South China Lions team based in the Bay of Plenty, and the Western Force, backed by West Australian billionaire Andrew Forrest.

Atiga says waiting until 2022 is not an option.

“If NZR are serious they’ll issue a licence … now or never.”

Pacific Rugby Players Welfare chief executive Dan Leo also called out NZR for its Pasifika snub.

“NZ Rugby have kicked into the curb the idea of a sixth ‘Pasifika’ Super team, breaking a clear promise that no questions, it will be a Pacific team added – as recommended by Aratipu Report,” Leo wrote on Twitter.

“NZR’s excuse: a 2021 Pasifika Super Rugby will not be competitive. But the window to stand up a competitive Pasifika team in NZ is now and the next three months with so many players being squeezed in the northern hemisphere. Once Covid is fixed that window closes.

“Instead a possible Pasifika team will have to battle it out for NZ slot in 2022 with well-heeled ‘China bid’ based in Bay of Plenty, reportedly paid for by ex-Blues financier Murray Bolton and support from Australian billionaire Andrew Forrest.

“Hard to believe that in 2018 same NZ Govt saw a Pasifika team as ‘a diplomatic force to counter China’s influence in the Pacific… rugby will help keep hearts and minds away from China, which is saturating the region with money to obtain influence’.”

NZR chairman Brent Impey defended his organisation’s Super Rugby plans, saying the national body will continue to engage separate bids from Moana Pasifika and Kanaloa Hawaii for one of three additional teams from 2022.

“We’re still committed to getting that across the line at some point but the board believes we must get this right,” Impey said.

“The board wasn’t satisfied that any of the applicants at this point are able to get a team or provide the necessary financial assurances. The last thing we want is for any team to come in and get smashed. Yes, there are teams that wanted licenses for 2021 but we considered both on the field and off the field none were ready.”