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It did not take long for Manu
Vatuvei to achieve one of his
first goals as a professional
In October of 2005 the then
19-year-old undertook what
would be the first of countless
such onerous assignments — a
telephone interview with a
Having just concluded his
second NRL campaign and
been called up for international
duty at a ridiculously tender
age, the prodigious young
talent ’s reputation preceded
“Here in the United Kingdom
they are calling you ‘Baby
Jonah’,” the journalist offered.
“So what do you make of
“Um, I just want to be Manu,”
Vatuvei eventually offers,
clearly a bit embarrassed by the
comparison with the legendary
rugby union sensation with
whom he shares Tongan
heritage and a New Zealand
Manu got his way.
The comparison did not
linger. With two tries in the Tri
Nations final against Australia
in Huddersfield for Bluey
McLennan’s triumphant Kiwis,
Vatuvei sealed his reputation,
and made his own name.
‘The Beast ’ had arrived. He
would not be leaving any time
Vatuvei’s ability to absorb
monstrous collisions over the
course of a 14-season, 259-
game professional career is one
of the many things that set him
apart from his peers. The guy
never took a soft hit-up. Ever.
Every single collision was a
bruising affair, with attempted
tacklers often significantly
worse for wear. But he also
copped plenty himself.
For some reason, the high
tackle law did not seem to
apply to hits on the giant
He would play games where
opponents would fail to hit
him below the eyebrows. He
endured. Spectacularly. Bravely.
Vatuvei may have shrugged off
his inequitable treatment, but it
p—d off his team-mates.
In 2014 Ben Matulino
muttered darkly about the
shoulder charges his mate was
regularly copping and the fact
the perpetrators were never
That weekend Matulino
levelled Bulldogs prop James
Graham with a beauty, copping
a three-match ban.
Three years later, two of
the club’s finest home-grown
talents are heading for the exit
Matulino will join Ivan
Cleary’s revolution at the
Tigers next season, while
Vatuvei takes a bow of sorts
before crossing the globe to
join Salford in the Super
The Warriors have renamed
Mt Smart in Vatuvei’s honour
and are doing everything
possible to mark his departure
in the right way — except for
granting him the one thing
that would actually achieve
that: A farewell appearance on
the pitch. Salford reportedly
did not want any risks taken
with the health of their new
Fair enough, but the
deference to a commercial
imperative over sentiment
makes his farewell entirely less
The Beast deser ves to go out
on his shield, not on a golf cart,
or whatever the club will mount
him on for his final parade
around the ground the 31-year-
old has called home for more
than half his life.
Vatuvei spent his last week at
the club fulfilling media duties,
saying his goodbyes to the fans
down the barrel of a succession
of television cameras and into
One of his last assignments
was to film some promotional
messages for the season-ending
World Cup, in which he will
likely make a belated farewell
appearance on New Zealand
soil playing for Tonga.
He is, he admits, a little
ner vous about his move to
It is the first change of job
description he will have had
in his life, but he is mainly
ner vous about making a good
All these years after the
requirement to do so must
surely have lapsed, he still feels
the need to prove himself.
His last message recorded, he
wanders out into the foyer of
the club’s East Stand offices.
A booming laugh shakes the
building. The man who just
wanted to be Manu is not gone
But he soon will be, and the
chasm he leaves behind will be
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‘Just call me Manu’
Kiwis and Warriors team-mates Manu Vatuvei and Ben Matulino
Shaun Johnson’s NRL season could be
over after the halfback suffered a serious
knee injury in the Warriors 34-22 loss to
As the Warriors led 22-18 in the 62nd
minute, Johnson buckled over chasing an
Issac Luke chip-kick and immediately
appeared in distress.
He limped off and could only watch
in despair as his side conceded three
late tries to a Nathan Cleary-inspired
Warriors coach Stephen Kearney said
Johnson’s diagnosis remained unclear,
with the playmaker set to undergo scans
Early indications did not look good.
As the key attacking weapon for both
club and country, a season-ending knee
injury for Johnson could doom the
Warriors’ already slim finals hopes.
It would also be a huge blow to New
Zealand’s World Cup campaign.
The Warriors now need a minimum
of five wins from their remaining seven
matches to stand a chance of qualifying
for their first finals since 2011.
Kearney admitted the injury may
have affected his side, who collapsed
in the final 15 minutes despite having
the experience of Kieran Foran, Simon
Mannering, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck and
Luke on the field.
“That possibly played a bit of a
part,” he said. “But again, regardless
of the situation, I think the game was
punctuated throughout (with) getting
ourselves in the positions, and (then) a
couple poor defensive reads. Very similar
to the game against the bye (against
Manly) — some individuals not getting
their jobs done, and you pay a hefty price
in this competition.
“S haun will get some scans — the early
diagnosis is probably not a real good one.
We just need to wait until the pictures
tell the story.”
While Johnson’s night ended miserably,
Cleary’s could not have gone better.
In a tale of two halfbacks, the 19-year-
old Cleary bagged a hat-trick — two
tries coming after Johnson’s absence
— a nd tormented the Warriors with
his quick thinking and strong tactical
kicking. He also bagged two assists.
Panthers boss Anthony Griffin said
Cleary ’s performance was outstanding
given the absence of Matt Moylan, the
loss of stand-in skipper Trent Merrin
and a second-half sin-binning for Corey
“He’s going to be a good player when
he grows up. It was just a really mature
effort from him,” Griffin said with
tongue in cheek.
Like Johnson, Merrin will undergo
scans on his knee injury today.
Weeks ago, poring over their calendars,
the Panthers marked a thick circle
around the date July 14, 2017. The
Warriors, in frigid Auckland. The
toughest of NRL away days.
Now, with a solid win to take back
across the ditch, they can begin to dream
of finals football.
On the brink barely two months ago,
the Panthers have turned around a 2-7
early-season record to sit just two points
outside the top eight — and after last
night ’s gritty win, their sixth in eight
games, Cleary wants a title run.
“ We pencilled this one in as a tough
away trip, we needed the two points.
So to come away with those points is
essential,” the 19-year-old said.
“A couple times this year, we’ve fallen
behind and kind of lost our confidence
and then the game’s gotten away from
us, but tonight we stuck in.”
Should the Panthrs sneak into this
year’s finals, they will mostly have their
prodigious halfback — in just his second
year of NRL footy — to thank.
He even laid on a pair of assists on
his old stomping ground, having grown
up around Mt Smart Stadium during
father Ivan’s Warriors coaching stint.
Winnable fixtures now follow against
the Titans, Bulldogs and Tigers.
Canberra’s faint finals hopes
are alive after a thrilling golden-
point NRL victory over St George
Illawarra ended their abysmal run
in tight finishes.
In a dour affair, the Raiders ran
out 18-14 winners in front of
10,977 fans at GIO Stadium last
A 40-20 kick from Raiders
halfback Aidan Sezer in extra
time set up the victory with Elliott
Whitehead crossing for the match-
winning try from a Dave Taylor
The win snapped the green
machine’s four-game losing streak
and prevented a fourth golden
point defeat of the season.
“ It ’s been a real struggle getting
these boys up after the way we lost
to Penrith,” Raiders coach Ricky
“The last three or four weeks it ’s
been really, really hard. A real big
job. Luck plays a massive role in
golden point. It just hasn’t been
rolling our way at times. ”
Both teams have injury concerns
out of the match and Raiders
for ward Josh Papalii could face a
suspension for a shoulder charge.
Dragons for ward Russell Packer
left the field early with a suspected
hip injury and couldn’t return
despite a pain-killing injection.
Raiders bench for ward Luke
Bateman will be assessed for a
broken cheekbone after a head clash
with Kurt Mann who returned after
A knee injury ended Canberra
prop Shannon Boyd’s night.
Papalii was lucky not have been
sent to the sin bin for a heavy
shoulder charge on Josh D ugan
which ended the former Raider’s
With Dugan being helped from
the ground, Sezer intercepted
a Gareth Widdop pass and ran
almost the length of the field to
score a brilliant solo try on the hour
Canberra captain Jarrod Croker
adding the extra points to make it
Croker put the Raiders in front
with a little more than 15 minutes
remaining, slotting a penalty goal
from 29m out on a tough angle.
Then Widdop levelled the scores
at 14-14 with his second penalty
goal five minutes later to set up a
But the Dragons skipper missed
two field goal attempts in the dying
minutes, while Sezer and Raiders
five-eighth Blake Austin were also
astray with their efforts to secure a
St George Illawarra coach Paul
McGregor was happy with his
side’s performance, despite the
“I thought it was a really big step
for ward on how we’ve been playing
to how we’ve played tonight,”
“If we play like that we win most
of our games throughout the rest of
the year. ”
Rory McIlroy heads into
Championship on the back of a
third missed cut in four events as
his poor form continued at the
McIlroy was hoping memories
of his last appearance in the event
would kickstart his injury-hit
The world No 4 finished 14th
in 2014 before going on to win
the Open, WGC-Bridgestone
Invitational and US PGA in his
next three starts.
However, the 28-year-old could
only add a 71 to his opening 74 at
the D undonald Links Course to
finish one over par and admitted
his birdie attempt on the 18th
to have a chance of making the
weekend was “terrible”.
“ I’m frustrated, but at the same
time I thought I saw some good
signs out there,” McIlroy said.
“ I thought my putting improved
this week compared to last week. I
hit some better wedges today, but
still room for improvement.
“It’s hard to sort of put my finger
“ But it’s not like I’m shooting 76s
“ It’s all around even par, but even
par these days isn’t good enough.
Three-time major winner Padraig
Harrington is nine-under par and
shares the lead with Alexander
Knappe of Germany and Callum
Australia’s Andrew Dodt is one
shot off the pace along with Ian
Adam Scott slipped to 15th
along with fellow Australian
Jason Scrivener to sit four under
The 2013 Masters champion
carded a 71 but Scrivener moved
up the leaderboard with a 68 —
helped by four birdies in seven
Veteran Aussie Sam Brazel also
made the cut after finishing three-
may be over
Cleary hat-trick sinks Warriors
Raiders overcome Dragons
McIlroy sees ‘good
signs out there’
PICTURE: Getty Images
Nathan Cleary of the Panthers scores a try against Roger Tuivasa-Sheck of the Warriors during the round 19 NRL
match between the New Zealand Warriors and the Penrith Panthers at Mt Smart Stadium.
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