Moana is the Player Development Manager for the Melbourne Rebels who made the semi-finals of this year’s Super Rugby Australia competition.
There are very few women in senior management positions for men’s teams in professional rugby in New Zealand or Australia – or even in top sport globally.
“I am a woman, and I am a Pacific Island woman. You are having to break through those stereo types. You are in such a male dominated sport. So, it does come with its challenges.”
The year has panned out very differently for Moana due to the severity of the Covid-19 pandemic in Victoria. While the team moved interstate, due to the rising number of Covid-19 cases, Moana did job her while in lockdown from her Melbourne home.
Despite the hurdles, Moana has taken everything in her stride. “I am finding here that they love my positivity, but it is just me being me.”
The job promotes and safeguards the interests of professional rugby athletes through preparing them for life outside rugby.
For example, she helps facilitate education and training opportunities, looks after player wellbeing, and helps facilitate workshops on topics like financial management and career planning.
Much of the role this year was supporting families while the players were away for three months due to Covid-19 restrictions.
Moana laughs as she describes her career progression as ‘very non-linear,’ grabbing opportunities when they came along.
Her parents migrated from Samoa to New Zealand in the 1970s. While she was born in Auckland, the family moved to Hamilton in 1982 and Moana attended Insoll Ave Primary, Fairfield Intermediate and Hamilton Girls’ High School. In 1996 she was awarded a Pacific Island Scholarship allowing her to do her final year at St Paul’s.
She credits the Harington House headmistress at the time, Dr Kay Etheridge, with helping her succeed.
“She was really key, I believe, in where I ended up. She absolutely sacrificed a lot of her time to get me up to speed and it was because of her I ended up doing a science degree.”
Moana completed a Bachelor of Science at the University of Auckland and in later years a Master of Business Administration (MBA) at the University of Waikato while continuing to work fulltime.
She firstly worked for Telecom then took roles in logistics and recruitment. She spent nine years as a Liaison Officer at Manukau Institute of Technology in Otara.
A netball player in Hamilton, the move to Auckland opened opportunities to play rugby – something that was not even an option in Hamilton growing up.
“I attended a muster with my cousin and absolutely loved it.” She played club rugby and representative rugby for Auckland and Counties Manukau and represented Samoa at the Women’s Rugby World Cup in Edmonton, Canada in 2006.
Hanging up her boots in 2014, she took the chance to be involved in the game on a voluntary basis.
She did a few seasons as manager for the Counties Manukau men’s 7s team; then secured the role as the Steelers team manager for Counties Manukau in the national competition, the Mitre 10 Cup, from 2016-2019.
“For me it was all about the experience and being able to network and find out what happens behind the scenes in high performance professional rugby.”
Moana says it was a full-on job but she “absolutely loved it.”
“After this I knew I wanted to pursue professional sport in a sports management capacity.”
She managed to secure contracts of varying lengths and built a reputation which saw her eventually land the role in Melbourne, facilitated with the help of the Rugby Union Players Association.
One of the key attributes she brings to the job, Moana believes, are her interpersonal skills, the result of her strong values-based cultural upbringing.
For now, she is happy to do her time in Australia and, should the opportunity arise, she would love to manage a national side and be involved in governance within the sports industry.
In Melbourne, Moana is living with her sister and brother-in-law. “I am glad I am with family at this time.”
She still has strong links to Hamilton. Her mother and older sister live in the city, and her mother works as a health care assistant at the Selwyn Wilson Carlile Retirement Village in Hamilton East. Her late father, who was a leader within the Pacific Island community, is laid to rest at the Hamilton Cemetery in Newstead.
Moana is full of praise for her upbringing, saying her parents worked multiple jobs to be able to provide for their four children, to help them succeed in life.