Half a dozen bids vying to be first Pacific Island Super Rugby team

Half a dozen competing bids have signalled their interest in becoming the first Pacific Super Rugby franchise.

New Zealand Rugby wants to add a Pasifika team to the competition from 2021 and is currently considering expressions of interest from a range of bids.

Kanaloa Hawaii and the Asia Pacific Dragons previously voiced their desire to join the Super Rugby competition, while Moana Pasifika is the latest group to go public.

Pacific Rugby Players CEO Aayden Clarke said they have consulted with half a dozen prospective groups.

"From our perspective we just want a quality organisation to grab this opportunity," he said.

"There's now been an appetite from the competition owners - at the moment it looks like that will be New Zealand - to have a Pacific Island Super Rugby team involved.

"We've said right from the start that we just want there to be meaningful outcomes and involvement from the three nations: Fiji, Tonga and Samoa and whomever that may be that leads out this franchise that the benefits of this team, in terms of performance pathway, really flow back into the islands."

The Kanaloa Hawaii group, which is backed by several former All Blacks, will no longer compete in the Major League Rugby next season but remain in the Super Rugby mix, while the Asian Pacific Dragons have submitted a bid to join in 2022.

Aayden Clarke said there was definitely enough Pacific rugby talent across the region but it won't be easy to build a competitive team in just a few months.

"That's a really short runway to be able to pull together a high-performing squad, build the roster of players, contracting - all of that," he said.

"I know that some of the organisations don't believe that is possible and are more inclined to really put their work into trying to be a serious option for a longer term but there are some others, who are New Zealand based, who think the can pull that together."

Kefu, a former Executive Director of the Tonga Rugby Union, declined to comment.

The article also said Moana Pasifika had "informal support" from the Samoan, Tongan and Fijian rugby unions.

However Fiji Rugby CEO John O'Connor had never heard of the bid until reading about it online and said there had been "no communication whatsoever" between the two parties.

The Fiji Rugby Union has previously established teams competing in the Australia National Rugby Championship and Global Rapid Rugby competitions, with the Drua winning their maiden NRC title in 2018.

Both competitions were cancelled because of Covid-19 and Aayden Clarke said the FRU have also expressed a strong desire to base a Super Rugby franchise on home soil.

"Maybe not for next year but they're looking at options of how they could adapt that," he said.

"But long-term they genuinely do feel that there should be a team based there and to be honest I think that would be fantastic."

A number of the Pacific Islands bids are also open to joining the Australian Super Rugby competition, which could mean basing themselves in Sydney or Brisbane until Covid-19 border restrictions are relaxed.

Aayden Clarke said it's possible there could even be separate Pacific Island franchises established on either side of the tasman.

"I think it would be possible," he said.

"They're two very separate markets, New Zealand and Australia, and possibly commercially Australia could be a little bit stronger than here in New Zealand, but there's pros and cons for different models and it's up to the franchise owners and the people that are leading them around to come about those decisions."

New Zealand Rugby is expected to confirm its intentions for the 2021 Super Rugby competition by the end of the month with a more long-term vision expected in the new year.