DHL Super Rugby Pacific: Under the Radar XV
DHL Super Rugby Pacific is known for producing some of the world's best rugby talents.
In this article, we highlight 15 rising stars who have emerged from relative obscurity to make a big impact in the opening six rounds of the competition. These players are quickly becoming the ones to watch out for in the 2023 season.
* Note: Players have been considered for the New Zealand-based sides only.
15: Harry Godfrey (Hurricanes)
Named as the 2023 Bunnings Warehouse Super Rugby U20s player of the tournament recently, 20-year-old Harry Godfrey has impressed in two appearances for the Hurricanes this season including his first start at fullback against the Western Force. Born in Hunterville, Godfrey made his Hawke’s Bay debut in a preseason match at the age of 18 and has spent three seasons in the Hurricanes U20s squad. Capable of playing 10 or 15, the Whanganui Collegiate old-boy’s strengths include pace off the mark, vision and an educated kicking game.
14: Emoni Narawa (Chiefs)
Fiji born and a product of Queen Victoria School in Tailevu, 23-year-old Emoni Narawa caught the nation’s attention about 30 seconds into the Chiefs derby match against the Blues in Round 6 when he raced onto a grubber kick and somehow managed to ground the ball in the corner for one of two tries on the night. A former Blues player, Narawa’s form’s built steadily in provincial rugby with Bay of Plenty and is hitting top gear in 2023.
Can you BELIEVE this finish?! 😱#SpecsaversSidelineFinish @Specsavers pic.twitter.com/MWcKUSl2lC— Super Rugby NZ (@SuperRugbyNZ) April 4, 2023
13: Daniel Rona (Chiefs)
Handed the opportunity to start in the Chiefs big derby match with the Blues in Round 6, Daniel Rona stepped up with a solid defensive effort on the big stage. The 22-year-old made two Super Rugby Pacific appearances off bench before being trusted with the start against the Blues. Below most people’s radar, the Taranaki product is proving a defensive asset with a tackline percentage in the 90s, and could be one to watch as the season unfolds.
12: Dallas McLeod (Crusaders)
Dallas McLeod is as steady as they come in the Crusaders midfield where a low error rate and accuracy in all areas is making him a key cog in the defending champion’s backline. Just 23 years old, McLeod has a high work rate, beats defenders regularly and plays big minutes.
11: Jacob Ratumaitavuki-Kneepkens (Blues)
Yet another Francis Douglas Memorial College alumni making waves in Super Rugby Pacific, 21-year-old Jacob Ratumaitavuki-Kneepkens literally leapt into the public domain at Eden Park in Round 5 with a spectacular try against the Force. Kneepkens has long been seen as a talented sportsman and after a stint with an NRL club after leaving school, returned to New Zealand where he was snapped up by the All Blacks Sevens.
😮 Stop what you are doing and admire one of the greatest finishes you will ever see! Jacob Ratumaitavuki-Kneepkens take a bow.#BLUvFOR #SuperRugbyPacific pic.twitter.com/7LZgV5dEy9— Super Rugby Pacific (@SuperRugby) March 26, 2023
10: Cam Millar (Highlanders)
Although Millar has made fleeting appearances for the Highlanders in 2023, his potential is undoubted. The 20-year-old Gore High School product starred for the New Zealand Under 20 in 2022 and will be soaking up plenty of knowledge with experienced pivots Mitch Hunt and Marty Banks in the Highlanders squad. Renowned for his proficient tactical game, Millar has incredible pace off the mark, which he showed in scoring his first Super Rugby try against the Drua in Round 5.
9: Cam Roigard (Hurricanes)
An unfortunate injury to TJ Perenara has opened the door for Cam Roigard to step up as one of the form halfbacks in Super Rugby. Sharing the halfback duties with the established Jamie Booth, Roigard has proven to be a potent attacking threat from the base of the scrum or ruck with four tries, 262 run metres and 21 defenders beaten so far in 2023. Roigard is also a slick passer and astute tactical kicker to cap off his all-round game.
8: Christian Lio-Willie (Crusaders)
Crusaders rookie Christian Lio-Willie has made an impact at No.8 for the Crusaders in the absence of their injured stars. The 24-year-old dentistry graduate has appeared in all six matches for the Crusaders this year, scoring one try, carrying the ball for 251 metres and racking up an impressive tackle success rate of 94%.
7: Miracle Fai’ilagi (Moana Pasifika)
Samoan-born Miracle Fai’ilagi was scouted by Moana Pasifika at a World Rugby talent combine in 2022 and has quickly repaid the faith shown in him. At 6’5 and 103kg, Fai’ilagi is an imposing physical presence with ball in hand. With 10 defenders beaten over his 376 run metres so far in 2023, Fai’ilagi is quickly building a reputation as one of the most damaging ball-runners in the competition. Moana Pasifika Head Coach Aaron Mauger praised Fai’ilagi’s impact so far and the trail he is blazing for other players from the Pacific. "There's so much talent in the islands, and Miracle is just one example, so it's awesome we can create the pathway for somebody to come here," Mauger said.
Gone in 60(ish) seconds ⏱@MoanaPasifika_ off to a blistering start after this intercept from Miracle Faiʻilagi!#BRUvMOA #SuperRugbyPacific pic.twitter.com/eLXTQoOBkw— Super Rugby Pacific (@SuperRugby) March 18, 2023
6: Brayden Iose (Hurricanes)
There’s been big wraps on the dynamic Brayden Iose for a few years now, and 2023 looks to be the year when he really makes his mark on the Super Rugby stage. The 24-year-old Palmerston North Boys’ High School product can play either flanker or No.8 and was highly impressive in the Hurricanes 45-42 win over the Western Force in round six with two tries.
5: Zach Gallagher (Crusaders)
21-year-old Zach Gallagher has impressed with four strong appearances from the bench for the Crusaders so far this season. With All Blacks pair Scott Barrett and Sam Whitelock soaking up most of the game time in the opening rounds, Gallagher made the most of his limited game time by carrying the ball strongly, defending impressively and operating efficiently at line out time. As former Head Prefect at Christs College, Gallagher has leadership potential and will be viewed by many as a long-term replacement for Crusaders veteran Sam Whitelock.
4: Cameron Suafoa (Blues)
Cameron Suafoa has taken his opportunity in the Blues second row with open hands this season. Featuring in all six of the Blues games so far, Suafoa has been a tower of strength in the five jersey for the Blues with an impressive tackle success rate of 95%, 179 hard-earned carry metres and solid work at set-piece time. Suafoa debuted for the Māori All Blacks in 2022 and will be looking for more representative honours in 2023.
3: Tamaiti Williams (Crusaders)
At 144kg, Tamaiti Williams is one of the biggest players in the competition. The 22-year-old tighthead made his debut for the Crusaders in 2021, but it is in 2023 where he is truly making his mark on the storied franchise. Playing in all six of the Crusaders games, Williams has been a rock in the front row and trouble with ball in hand. Williams has previously represented the New Zealand Under 20 (2019), the Māori All Blacks (2020-22) and All Blacks XV (2022) and no doubt has his sights set on even higher honours in the future.
2: Samiulea Moli (Moana Pasifika)
Tongan international Samiuela Moli has stepped up in his second year of Super Rugby. The 24-year-old has played in all six of Moana Pasifika’s games in 2023, crossing for three tries, making 33 carries, and running for 150 metres. His lineout throwing and defensive work have also been exceptional. Expect Moli to feature strongly for Tonga in the Rugby World Cup later this year.
1: Ollie Norris (Chiefs)
Sydney-born Ollie Norris has been a quiet-achiever in the Chiefs engine room this season. While the likes of Shaun Stevenson and Damian McKenzie have been capturing the headlines for their flashy play, it is upfront where the platform has been set for the Chiefs winning run and none have been better than the unflappable Norris. The 23-year-old loosehead prop has appeared in all six of the Chiefs games this season. He is a rock at set-piece time and a workhorse around the park.
⬆️ @Highlanders are the big movers in round 6. How's your team looking? #SuperRugbyPacific pic.twitter.com/tJ01boRnc0— Super Rugby Pacific (@SuperRugby) April 2, 2023