Moana Leilua has described her involvement in the Capgemini Women in Rugby Leadership Programme as a “watershed moment” and she is determined to make sure she is not the only person who benefits from it.

Former Samoa front-row Leilua became tearful when she discovered she had been accepted onto the programme last year, having assumed the call that delivered the news was merely set up to check details of her application.

Since then, she has travelled to Paris to take part in the Capgemini Women in Rugby Leadership Summit 2023, enrolled on the Company Directors Course at the Australian Institute of Company Directors and also plans to complete Capgemini’s Connected Manager programme.

Leilua is grateful for the opportunities that her participation in the Capgemini Women in Rugby Leadership Programme has already provided as she works hard to fulfil her governance and leadership aspirations while working full-time as a Player Development Manager with the Rugby Union Players’ Association (RUPA) in Melbourne.

However, Leilua is mindful that her involvement in the programme is not just about her and her own career ambitions.

“For me, it was about being able to make sure that I can make a meaningful contribution as a Pacific Islander and a female that serves in men’s professional rugby.

“Look at Australia as well as New Zealand, in terms of the demographic that contribute on the field, there's a lack of parity off the field,” she told World Rugby.

“I can probably count on two hands how many Pacific Island people are working in sports administration roles within Australian high-performance rugby. For me to be able to make authentic change [I need] to look at roles that allow someone like me or someone of my demographic to have a voice and seat at the decision-making table.

“Hence the reason why the professional development and mentorship from World Rugby and Capgemini will be beneficial. The courses that we can do with Capgemini will definitely add value, especially regarding my governance aspirations.

“Executive leadership is also something that I aspire towards. Leadership is in my blood, and so I really would love to look at ways that I can contribute positively, as someone who's chosen to serve within professional rugby in Australia.”

Leilua added: “I want to encourage our Pacific people who are involved in rugby in Australia that there are potential career opportunities other than just being a rugby athlete.

“That’s the reason why the scholarship is important. It’s not just about me, it’s about the generation behind me that’s coming through.”

“Forever indebted”

Having first played the game at university in the late 1990s, Leilua went on to represent Auckland, Counties Manukau, NZ Samoa and Samoa Manusina, making five appearances at Women’s Rugby World Cup 2006.

At that point in her life, Leilua – a self-confessed “lifelong learner” – thought she was destined for a career in education. While playing she worked in tertiary education, primarily with Pasifika youth and was on a path to further opportunities within that sector.

However, her former club coach Mulipola Darryl Suasua believed her skill set would be a good fit as a team manager, a role she subsequently filled with both Counties Manukau and New Zealand Rugby for various teams across the men’s and women’s games.

“I will be forever indebted to Mulipola Darryl, his wife Davida and their family. Their support and belief that I could do the role enabled me to pivot from serving in education into the rugby sector,” Leilua says.

“As women, sometimes we doubt ourselves and it’s not until someone actually calls the greatness out of you that you believe in yourself. That’s what Mulipola Darryl did for me.

“As the saying goes, when you allow your passion to become your purpose, it will one day become your profession, and my rugby journey to date stands as a testament to that.”

Inspiring others

The confidence Leilua gained from working as a team manager in New Zealand was a factor in the move she made four years ago, across the Tasman Sea to work with RUPA and the Rebels in Melbourne.

It is a switch that has paid off for her, providing her with the opportunity to work in a different country and a slightly different area of the game.

Although based with the Rebels, Leilua has supported her colleagues in the other Super Rugby AU franchises, collaborated with Pacific Rugby Players CEO Hale T’Pole on the 2022 and 2023 Oceania Rugby Women’s Combines, and currently sits as the Victorian representative on the Rugby Australia Pacific strategy committee and Pasifika representative on RUPA’s national player development committee.

“I have a very non-linear career pathway, and some of the work that I had done within the Pacific communities and in the tertiary education space in Auckland really piqued the interest of [RUPA and Melbourne Rebels]. And so, it was a really good marriage of skills,” Leilua said.

“The scholarship is quite a watershed moment for me from a professional point of view. I'm beyond excited about what's ahead.”

Motivating others from marginalised communities to join her on the pathway to the boardroom is certainly fuelling Leilua in the programme and beyond.

“I’m in a very privileged space, I certainly recognise that, but I also know that I need to make sure that I’m bringing my people along,” she said.

“If my role at the minute is to be able to connect or link then so be it, but I also need to make sure I do really good work. I know that I’m holding space until the time is right to step aside for the next generation of women and Pasifika people to come busting through.”