Hemani Paea's bio
Hemani Paea Life and Career Highlights.
Hemani Paea, or just Mani for short, hails from the beautiful Polynesian kingdom of Tonga. Growing up on this island nation known for producing some of the finest rugby talent on the face of this planet, it was only natural that Mani found himself with a rugby ball in his hands at a very young age.
As a young rising star, Mani first entered into the world of professional rugby at the early age of 15, when the national U18 called him up to represent his nation. Here he helped take the team all the way to Australia before making his next move into the U19 squad, then the U21 team, and finally the Tongan National Team at just 20 years of age.
Unfortunately, a severe ankle injury would put a roadblock at this stage in his career, keeping him back from competing in the 2007 Rugby World Cup in France. But, despite this setback, Mani still got his chance to play on French soil when, after trying out for Marseille Vitrolles Rugby (now known as Stade Phocéen), he was selected to join the team.
Here he spent his first two years in France, learning the language and securing the team’s spot in the Federal 1 division. But it wouldn’t take long for other teams to start paying attention and, before long, Mani was moving up the ranks.
Mani’s first move into the upper echelons of French rugby came in the year 2011 when Oyonnax Rugby called on him to join the team. There he would spend four full seasons making his mark at the top of French rugby, playing a vital role in the team’s victory in the 2012 Pro D2 championship, and its quarter-final spot in the next year’s Top 14 championship.
His next move was in 2015 to France’s so-called yoyo team, Lyon Olympique Universitaire (LOU), so called due to its multiple moves between the Top 14 division and Pro D2. Once at LOU, it didn’t take Mani long to make a massive impression. In the space of one season, he not only played a central role in the team’s eventual victory in that year’s Pro D2 championship, but also won the 2016 Pro D2 player of the year award.
From here, Mani spent a couple of seasons in Federal 1, first with AS Mâcon where he helped the team with the 2019 Yves du Manoir trophy, then with Villefranche-sur-Saone for a season.
At this point, Mani thought it was time to retire from rugby, and spent the next season living a more ordinary life with his wife and two kids. However, with rugby coursing through his veins, it was only a matter of time before the itch to play got the better of him.
In 2021, after former Oyonnax teammate Ikapoté Fono put him in touch with the club’s president, Mani joined Sarlat Rugby Team in 2021 and made his return to the field.
Now a true veteran of French rugby, Mani has played close to 130 matches at the Pro D2 and Top 14 level, as well as countless others in Frances Federal divisions, and as a proud representative for his home country, Tonga.
Sarlat Rugby recently finished its first season without a single loss since the club’s founding back in 1903, with a perfect 22 wins for 22 games played. The addition of players like Lucas Caneda, Hemani Paea, Ikapote Fono and Dato Okriashvili has turned a team that used to used to play the bottom brackets into a contender qualified for the French Federal 2 championship finals and a brand that has secured a global following, with new fans hailing from every corner of the world.
This performance on the field has attracted the attention of big sports brands like Samurai. Based just across the channel in the U.K., Samurai Sportswear is a leading international kit supplier to sporting clubs from Australia and New Zealand to the English Premiership Rugby division. And, in it has been doing so for the last 25 years. And, in 2021, Samurai came onboard as Sarlat Rugby Team’s new kit supplier.
When word that Samurai Sportswear would potentially become the new kit sponsor for the team first spread, there was more than a little enthusiasm from some of the players. The current kit at the time left quite a lot to be desired. And, while not everyone knew who Samurai was at first, many players did.
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