Super Rugby Pacific: Giving back to Samoan heritage the inspiration behind Christian Lealiifano's Moana Pasifika signing

The significance of being Moana Pasifika's first signing ahead of their Super Rugby debut in 2022 isn't lost on former Wallabies playmaker Christian Lealiifano, hoping to honour his heritage as one of the team's foundation players.

Moana Pasifika and Fijian Drua are the two expansion sides welcomed into Super Rugby from next year, as the competition becomes Super Rugby Pacific.

But now that the two sides have been granted licences to join Super Rugby Pacific, Moana Pasifika are tasked with completing a roster made up of players not contracted to the other New Zealand and Australian sides.

In Lealiifano, Moana Pasifika couldn't have asked for a better flagbearer to lead the team into its maiden campaign.

The 34-year-old boasts 26 test caps for Australia, as well as 150 appearances in Super Rugby for the Brumbies, and returns to New Zealand - the country of his birth - after a stint in Japan with NTT Com Shining Arcs.

And having watched Moana Pasifika from afar in 2020, Lealiifano will next year have the chance to play for a side that represents his Samoan heritage.

"I saw them play last year in that exhibition game against the Māori All Blacks," Lealiifano tells Newshub.

"Hearing that they got the licence to be in the Super Rugby competition, it was a thought that it would be nice to be involved in the team if there was any opportunity.

"I never thought in my playing career that I'd see a team for Pacific Islanders in this kind of competition.

"It's something that's really, really special [and] I'm really humbled that I got the opportunity to be a part of. 

"Seeing them put the pieces together and the purpose of the team, the connection to my heritage and ancestry, it was something that really excited me.

"Luckily enough, they felt the same and have taken me along for the ride as well."

While on paper Moana Pasifika might not be able to match the hefty pay packet of playing in Japan or Europe, Lealiifano will play for something much more important in Super Rugby Pacific.

As one of the first players to sign for the new team, Lealiifano will forever be remembered as one of the pioneers of Moana Pasifika, as the Pacific Islands finally begin to tap into their undeniable potential in world rugby.

Being able to turn out and represent his Pasifika heritage is something that Lealiifano couldn't turn down. 

"It's going to be really special, and a big part of being able to represent this team.

"Now to have a team that's fully dedicated to that is super special. I'm so grateful I've got the opportunity while I'm still playing - just - to be involved in something that I think's going to be quite powerful, and really special."

Lealiifano joins coach Aaron Mauger among Moana Pasifika's ranks, with more players to be unveiled in the coming days.