Moana Pasifika have announced former Wallabies first five-eighths Christian Leali'ifano as their first major signing ahead of the franchise's debut season in Super Rugby Pacific 2022.
The New Zealand-born, 26-test Wallaby is one of the first players to pledge to Moana Pasifika, proving the strength of the team's appeal to players of Pasifika descent. He has signed with the club for the 2022 season with the option to extend.
Moana Pasifika coach Aaron Mauger said Leali'ifano's experience and strong Samoan identity made him an obvious choice for the new Super Rugby entity.
"We're ecstatic that Christian has chosen to join our Moana va'a for the journey ahead; he brings so many great qualities that will serve our team well," Mauger said.
"Christian is one of those unbelievable players who oozes class as a footy player and a man. How he sees the game, how he plays the game and the level of professionalism and leadership he brings will play a huge part in our growth as a team and the development of the players around him."
Leali'ifano said he was itching to pull on the Moana Pasifika jersey and rejoin the Super Rugby fray with the new team.
"As someone who was raised a proud Samoan, there is massive appeal in playing for a team that celebrates my heritage, and my culture," he said.
"I have been blessed with so many amazing opportunities over the course of my rugby career, that I feel I can give back to a special community that has always supported me regardless of what colour jersey I was wearing."
Leali'ifano will make the move to New Zealand when he joins the squad for assembly in December.
Leali'ifano has amassed a career total of 171 points with the Australian national side between 2013 and 2019, including a Rugby World Cup campaign.
In recent years, the 34-year-old has been plying his trade in Japan's Top League with Toyota Shokki Shuttles (2018) and NTT Communications (2019 & 2020).
A key playmaker in Brumbies Super Rugby campaigns between 2008 and 2019, Leali'ifano has earned 150 Super Rugby appearances with 963 points to his name.
In 2016, the rugby community was rocked by the news he had been diagnosed with leukaemia. Remarkably, following a successful bone marrow transplant, he returned to Super Rugby in 2017 before heading overseas for a short stint in Ireland's Pro14 and European Rugby Champions Cup with Ulster.
In 2019, his fairytale return to top level rugby was complete when he started at first five in the Wallabies side that put 47 points on the All Blacks in Perth.
That year, he earned his first selection to the Rugby World Cup in Japan, playing in four test matches.