July 11, 2020 / 7:22 AM / 25 days ago

Rugby-Former All Blacks Pacific Islanders form first Hawaii pro team

WELLINGTON, July 11 (Reuters) - A group of former All Blacks, including two-time World Cup winner Jerome Kaino, said they are behind a bid to establish the first professional rugby union team in Hawaii, a move they called a boost for Pacific Islanders.

Kanaloa Hawaii had its bid to join Major League Rugby from next year confirmed on Friday, pending final approval.

If terms such as an expansion fee are met, “the team would be formalized and ratified by a board vote, and Kanaloa Hawaii would become the 14th member for the 2021 MLR season,” MLR said in a statement on Friday.

Joining Kaino, who plays for France’s Toulouse, in the ownership group are All Blacks Joe Rokocoko, John Afoa, Benson Stanley, Anthony Tuitavake and Ben Atiga. All are former members of the powerhouse New Zealand national team and have either Samoan, Tongan or Fijian heritage.

“Creating an even playing field for Polynesians and Maori to get on the world stage, and the impact you have on the people back home is enormous,” Kaino told the MLR Rant podcast. “You end up finding out that rugby is more than a game.

“That’s what it means to us. To be able to create a legacy and create something special to pass on to the next generation ... and show what our little nations can do on the world stage.”

MLR cancelled much of its 2020 season due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the team in Colorado disbanded, allowing the league to seek further expansion from next season.

“We are going to be the first professional Pacific islands rugby team in the world,” the budding Hawaii team’s rugby manager, Cam Kilgour, told the podcast this week.

“We really want to develop professional rugby players from Hawaii and give them the opportunity.”

Former All Blacks and Wallabies skills coach Mick Byrne would lead the side, with former All Blacks centre Tamati Ellison his assistant. (Reporting by Greg Stutchbury; Editing by William Mallard)

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