Rugby World Cup 2019: Pacific Island players making waves for other teams

Look around contact-sports teams anywhere in the world, and you’ll see names that remind you of Fiji, Samoa, Tonga and the wider Pacific.

Whether it's the NFL, NRL, ARL or Super Rugby - not to mention top competitions in Europe, Asia and the Americas - you’ll find superstars of Pacific descent.

This year's Rugby World Cup will act as a massive showcase of their characteristic exciting, aggressive and immensely physical talent. Here are the stories behind some of those stars.

Manu Tuilagi (England)

 

Tuilagi has been a fan favourite for England rugby supporters ever since his backline debut in 2011.

Born in Samoa, his parents decided to name him 'Manusamoa', after older brother Freddie made the 1991 World Cup squad for Samoa that year.

In fact, Manu has five older brothers who all played for Samoa, but since he grew up and played most of his rugby in England, he felt he identified as more English than Samoan.

Tuilagi is no stranger to controversy, especially at Rugby World Cups. In 2011, he was fined for wearing a sponsored mouthguard, before being arrested by NZ police for jumping off a ferry into the Auckland harbour.

Marika Koroibete (Australia)

 

Koroibete's story is similar to many rugby league converts.

Scouted as a teenager in Fiji, he was signed to the Wests Tigers NRL club and went on to play five try-filled seasons of rugby league. He also represented Fiji seven times.

In 2016, just weeks after playing in the NRL Grand Final for Melbourne Storm, he was selected in the Wallabies squad to tour Europe at the end of the year.

He's now recorded 18 caps for Australia. Watch out for his pace on the wing - he can run 100m in 10.7s and 40m in just 4.8s.

Samu Kerevi (Australia)

 

Samuela Kerevi may have been born in Fiji, but after moving to Australia at the age of seven, his link to another country is not at all tenuous.

Raised by a father who represented Fiji in football and with a brother, Josua, who played for Fiji at U20 level, his pedigree is also unquestioned.

Samu Kerevi in action for the Reds
Samu Kerevi in action for the Reds. Photo credit: Photosport

You may know him as the captain and centre/second-five for the Reds in Super Rugby.

Taniela Tupou (Australia)

 

Tupou made the whole world take notice of him at a young age, when footage of him scoring three tries in one game for Auckland's Sacred Heart College went viral.

The barn-storming teenage prop's services were then in hot demand, with New Zealand and Australia, as well as clubs in France and England, all vying to sign him professionally.

Eventually Tupou, nicknamed the 'Tongan Thor', decided to pursue his rugby on Australian soil and has quickly ascended the representative ranks.

Tanielu Tupou at Wallabies training
Tanielu Tupou at Wallabies training. Photo credit: AAP

He is relatively short for a modern-day prop at 1.75m, but has tremendous power in the scrums and agility around the field for such a big man.

Uwe Helu (Japan)

 

Now a regular for the Sunwolves in Super Rugby, Helu scored a try in the side's big upset of the Chiefs earlier this season, but is still relatively unheralded compared to some on our list.

But some Kiwis may recognise the name. While he was born in Tonga, Helu attended and played rugby for St Thomas of Canterbury College in Christchurch.

He then moved to Japan for university and after six years of study, began his professional club career.

His 1.93m (6ft 4in)/115kg frame was highly valued in Japan and he made his international debut just two years later.

Amanaki Mafi (Japan)

 

Japan's history of adopting Tongan nationals into their fold is long and strong, and this time, their reputation came through for them.

Mafi represented Tonga at the 2009 Junior World Cup, before moving to Hanazono University in Japan in 2010. 

After being named in both the Tonga and Japan squads for the 2014 November tests, he opted to play for Japan and has been one of their best players ever since.

Off-field though, Mafi has provided plenty of controversy. In 2018, Mafi was charged with intent to injure former Melbourne Rebels teammate Lopeti Timani, after a Super Rugby game against the Highlanders.

Both players were reportedly drinking at the house of Mafi's brother, when Timani insulted a Mafi family member.

Timani claims he fled the house in fear of his life, and was chased down and beaten. Mafi has pleaded not guilty to the charge.

Ofa Tu'ungafasi (NZ)

 

Born in Tonga and only moving to New Zealand at the age of 14, Tu'ungafasi has become a mainstay of All Blacks sides, since making his debut as a 24-year-old in 2016.

Able to play at both loosehead and tighthead prop positions, his versatility is invaluable when it comes to a World Cup tournament.

Tu'ungafasi is one of 13 siblings and has 10 brothers, one of which - Isileli - plays for the Crusaders in Super Rugby, also as a prop.

Ofa Tuungafasi in action for the All Blacks
Ofa Tuungafasi in action for the All Blacks. Photo credit: Photosport

He will soon become a second generation Rugby World Cup player, after his father Mofuike, played as a lock for Tonga at the 1987 event.

Others...

Joe Cokanasiga (England) 

Watch out: both Sir Clive Woodward and Lawrence Dallaglio have labeled this Fijian winger the next Jonah Lomu. Aged 21, he's one of the youngest potential superstars in the tournament.

Nepo Laulala (NZ)

Born in Samoa and brother to former All Black Casey Laulala. The Laulala brothers are one of 57 sets of brothers to become All Blacks.

Nepo Laulala in action for the Chiefs
Nepo Laulala in action for the Chiefs. Photo credit: Photosport

Tolu Latu (Australia)

Moved to Australia from Tonga at a young age, now plays at hooker for the Waratahs in Super Rugby.

Isi Naisarani (Australia)

Has played for three different Australian Super Rugby franchises over the past three years, after being born in Fiji. He began at the Western Force, moved to the Brumbies and now plays in the back row for the Melbourne Rebels.

Isa Naisarani in action for Melbourne Rebels
Isa Naisarani in action for Melbourne Rebels. Photo credit: AAP

Asaeli Ai Valu (Japan)

A Tongan-born prop who got his professional rugby break as a 25-year-old in Japan. He now plays for the Sunwolves in Super Rugby.

Timothy Lafaele (Japan)

Lafaele was educated at De La Salle College in Auckland, after being born in Samoa. A rugby scholarship took him to Japan and he's stayed there ever since.

He's now a Japanese citizen and starting centre for the Brave Blossoms.

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