Backrow signing Pagopago Haini has literally put American Samoa on the Major League Rugby map with the LA Giltinis today announcing his signing on a one-year deal.
The Giltinis are excited to add a seasoned 29-year-old forward who has been hardened by years of New Zealand club rugby in Wellington as well as MLR experience.
“Pago” is short for “Pagopagohokma” which honours his birth in American Samoa’s port capital of Pago Pago when his parents were church ministers in the Pacific islands.
The first alert of Haini’s American rugby nationality came early in 2017 when he was drafted into the USA men’s sevens team as injury cover in Wellington for a World Series tournament and the Sydney Sevens to follow.
Stints with Houston SaberCats (2018) and the New England Free Jacks, in their exhibition season of 2019, flowed but he was land-locked for a full club season for Marist St Pats in Wellington in 2020.
The 6’ 1” (1.85m), 249lb (113kg) forward is a strong-running No.8 or blindside flanker accustomed to the heavy contact he’s grown up with in NZ.
“I’m very excited because I wasn’t sure I’d get another crack in the US,” Haini said after his contract was signed on January 13.
“I’ve obviously had those two years around MLR clubs but don’t feel I’ve lived up to my potential (because his Houston season was ruined by a major knee injury).
“I feel healthy, very confident and know Los Angeles is a really good fit for me.”
Haini’s rugby journey has been a series of plunges abroad since he left Samoa as a teenager for three years on scholarship at Brisbane’s Anglican Church Grammar School in Australia.
Samoan Under-19 selection after a move to New Zealand fed into his rugby education in the uncompromising Wellington club scene with Old Boys University and Marist St Pats.
“Playing for the Eagles in sevens as injury cover was a real opportunity and it led to playing half a season of club rugby with Santa Monica in 2017-18,” Haini said.
“It gave me a good feel for the positives of playing with the Giltinis because I know how massive the following is for rugby in southern California.
“Having an ex-international No.8 like (former Wallaby) Stephen Hoiles as an assistant coach will be really beneficial in developing my game as well.
“I got to do a bit with the youth programs run by Santa Monica rugby and the opportunity is there through the Giltinis for so many new kids to enjoy the game.
“I’ve got my Level One and Two coaching papers so that’s an area I do enjoy away from playing.”
Giltinis head coach Darren Coleman said he is looking forward to all Haini can bring to the club.
“Pago is a traditional Polynesian forward…big, physical and aggressive,” Coleman said.
“The added bonuses are he’s had playing experience in the USA already and my background checks have all indicated he’s a really good, positive team man.
“Put those things together and the Giltinis have another good signing.”
The Giltinis will kick off their MLR campaign on the weekend of March 20, 2021. For more info on the MLR season and how to support the LA Giltinis, stay tuned to www.giltinis.com