Japan's Mafi re-signing boosts Rebels
NEWS: Highly-rated Japanese international Amanaki Mafi has opted to stay with the Melbourne Rebels for next season.
They Super Rugby franchise, which is threatened with closure, regards his re-signing as a massive boost.
The powerful back row forward, who is in the running as Australia's Super Rugby player of the year, agreed to a one-year extension to remain with the Rebels for a second season.
Either the Melbourne Rebels or the Perth-based Western Force are facing the axe after Australia announced plans to cut one of its teams from Super Rugby, which is shrinking from 18 to 15 sides next year.
Mafi's re-signing follows last week's announcement that the Victorian Rugby Union has assumed control of the Rebels' licence, in a move aimed at securing the club's future.
Mafi, 27, had an outstanding debut season for the Rebels and proved one of the best forwards among the five Australian teams.
"We're thrilled that fan favourite Amanaki has chosen to remain with the Rebels in Melbourne for another year after a standout first Super Rugby season generated plenty of interest," Rebels CEO Baden Stephenson said.
"Amanaki was the most dominant forward in the Australian conference and quickly established himself as a highly respected member of the Rebels squad with his consistent hard running and physical presence in the back row."
Mafi has represented Japan on 16 occasions, including in the three-Test series against Romania and Ireland in June.
"It was an easy decision to re-sign with the Rebels, since I've arrived everyone has made me feel welcome," Mafi said.
"I'm looking forward to next year because there is more I want to achieve with the club and we've got some great young players so I think the Rebels will have a great season."
Mafi has been a shining light in his debut Super Rugby season as one of the competition's leading forwards despite a challenging season for the Rebels on and off the field.
Mafi is one of three Rebels to have started and appeared in all 15 games this season, including his maiden Super Rugby try against the Waratahs in Sydney in Round 13.
Since his Super Rugby debut against the Blues in the opening round, the No.8 has had an immediate impact on the competition.
Mafi led the league for runs (184) and ranked first for forwards in the competition for run metres (1378), offloads (30) and second for tackle busts (48).
He also led the Rebels for minutes played (1145), line-breaks and pilfers.
Mafi will return to the Melbourne Rebels in January following the conclusion of Japan's Top League.
Additional reporting by AFP