Funaki among Moana players set for Tonga World Cup call up

Several Moana Pasifika players are expected to be heading to the 2023 Rugby World Cup with the Ikale Tahi of Tonga in September.

That's the indication from Tongan head coach Toutai Kefu, who says the Tongan players in the Moana outfit have improved immensely in the last two years the team has been part of the Super Rugby Pacific competition.

Kefu is expected to announce Tonga's squad to meet Ireland, Scotland, South Africa and Romania in France this coming weekend.

Speaking with RNZ Pacific from Brisbane this week, the former Wallaby loose forward said he and his panel of coaches have been following the performances of Moana Pasifika players and those playing around the world.

He said the two years of being conditioned in the Super Rugby Pacific professional rugby environment has helped the players and the competition has offered players the opportunity to play at a higher level.

"We are going to take a good portion of those Tongan players from Moana to the World Cup and those players we've watched closely over the last two years have improved significantly," he said.

Moana Pasifika's 2023 captain Solomone Funaki, who won four awards at the Moana Pasifika 20223 Awards Evening in Auckland on Tuesday, is a top contender for a World Cup spot with the Ikale Tahi.

Funaki, a tough loose forward, won the supreme award - the Moana Man - in a season which saw him step up into the captaincy with maiden skipper Sekope Kepu out for the season.

Funaki could also be in the running as Ikale Tahi captain at the World Cup.

He finished the regular season as the competition's fourth best tackler with 173 (95 percent success rate) in 13 games, made 129 tackles, won 11 turnovers, scored three tries and carried the ball 141 metres past contact.

He also won the Tangaloa Award for Best Defender, the Savae La'auli Sir Michael Jones Forward of the Year and the Players Player of the Year.

Props Abraham Pole and Sosefo Apikotoa, flanker Penitoa Finau, winger Tima Fainga'anuku, Fine Inisi and fullback William Havili look set to also get the call up for national duties.