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WELLLINGTON,NEW ZEALAND-  APRIL 09,2021 (RNZ PACIFIC/PACNEWS): A Moana Pasifika women’s team will make their representative debut in the Takiwhitu Tūturu rugby sevens, which kicks off in Wellington this morning.

The squad includes players with links to Fiji, Samoa, Tonga and the Cook Islands and co-captain Tysha Ikenasio said it means a lot to represent their Pacific Island heritage.

“We all have a strong passion for where we’ve come from and who comes before us, so I think obviously going into the weekend we’ll take all of that,” she said.

“We’ve only known each other a short time but we’ve all come from ancestors and people in the past that we all represent our own upbringings and families, so I think everyone holds that strong same passion so I think it will be exciting.”

Co-coach and former All Blacks Sevens playmaker Rocky Khan said it was a great opportunity to come together as a Māori and Pasifika region.

“I know being Rotuman there’s not many Rotumans around and it’s pretty cool that we see Rotumans, the cultures being out there a bit more and being able to represent that.

“And also the girls being real proud of where they come from as well and being able to represent their families as well. It’s a pretty awesome opportunity to be a part of.”

The squad has no shortage of talent: Katelyn Vaha’akolo is a Kiwi Ferns rugby league international while Masuisuimatamaalii Pauaraisa can check off the Kiwi Ferns, Fetū Samoa, the Manu Sina and New Zealand Warriors rugby league team among her many achievements.

Co-captain Mele Hufanga was previously a part of the Black Ferns environment and was looking forward to playing against some familar faces.

“I just want to play for our families, they’re the other reason why we’re here,” she said.

“Especially for Moana Pasifika: we are the first women for Moana Pasifika. I haven’t played alongside those girls in ages so it will be good to play against them as well. I just want to have fun.”

Tysha Ikenasio is back in New Zealand after five years playing for the Nagato Blue Angels in Japan.

She’s among three Moana Pasifika players who featured in the women’s Red Bull Ignite7 camp in December, and said the group has bonded quickly.

“They always say that we will start off slow and ease into it but we’re pretty intense. Basic skills were there and everyone has the same love and passion for the game, so I think as long as we’ve all got each other’s back we can go out there and go hard.”

Co-coach and former Samoa women’s international Cynthia Ta’ala-Timaloa said the coaching staff have preached a simple message during a whirlwind few days of training.

“Our athletes are really excited just to be playing against the Black Ferns so they’re going to bring everything, definitely their Pacific flavour,” she said.

“I think for them we’ve been drumming it into them (to) just do your best, whatever the result is so long as you’re doing your best. A lot of is going to tie back to making sure we’re honouring the ancestors, honouring the parents, so they’re going to come with a lot of heart.”

There’s also optimism that Moana Pasifika will become a regular representative pathway for Pacific Island players.

“To think that only a few weeks ago this Moana Pasifika women’s team wasn’t even thought about and now we’re here and playing.

“So we’re only scratching the surface of what’s possible and what could happen, and I guess it’s a great opportunity to give another group of players the chance to showcase what they’ve got.”

Moana Pasifika kick off the tournament against the Black Ferns Sevens Black this morning and will also face the Black Ferns Sevens White and Black Ferns 15-a-side selection, with the playoffs on Saturday afternoon…..

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