Warriors' Manu Vatuvei tackles beast of burden

TO STAY OR GO? Manu Vatuvei.
TO STAY OR GO? Manu Vatuvei.

With calls for him to move from the left wing to left-right-out, talkback punters spewing vitriol about his bumbling performance against the Tigers and a dose of the flu to boot, it would be fair to say Manu Vatuvei has felt better.

But if there's one thing the resilient Warriors winger knows how to do, it's bounce back from adversity.

Just over a fortnight ago against the Tigers in Sydney, "The Beast" had what he calls "a game of two halves". In the opening 40 minutes, he was at his dangerous best. In the second half, though, the "Vatu-fingers" came out.

It was a performance that, as unfair as this might be, went a long way to costing the Warriors the match and the response from the armchair critics was as swift as it was brutal.

Vatuvei knows he was poor – he didn't need anyone to tell him that – and took note of the criticism from his sick bed during the bye week.

But on the eve of today's clash with the Melbourne Storm in Auckland – a match where he expects nothing less than to be peppered with bombs – "The Beast" is already talking about redemption.

"I know I could have played better against the Tigers. But I can sit here and say I could have or should have done this, but I just have to have improve on it now," Vatuvei says.

"I felt like I let the boys down.

"They mean a lot to me and to let them down again would be a really bad thing.

"I'm going to look to bounce back on Sunday and play my heart out for them.

"I've been listening to everyone talking about how I keep doing everything wrong. But what matters to me is what our coach thinks and what the boys are saying." What "the boys" are saying, rather unsurprisingly, is that to write off their not-so-secret weapon on the wing is a dangerous prospect indeed.

"I know from a player's perspective that he is the first bloke you want picked every week. He's someone the boys love having in the side," playmaker James Maloney says.

"Every time he drops the pill or something, though, there seems to be a backlash.

"I don't exactly know what it's about. With the talent he's got, he has the ability to make such a massive impact on games when he's on song, and I don't know whether it's just that people expect it every week or something.

"Maybe it stems from that expectation but it's definitely frustrating to see everyone getting stuck into him for a couple of mistakes."

Likewise, captain Simon Mannering, when asked for his opinion, just shakes his head and shrugs his shoulders; he's been here before, you see.

"It was surprising to hear that he was the one who had the finger pointed at him," Mannering says.

"It's never nice to have that happen in a team sport, having one guy singled out.

"It was a bit strange but I guess the criticism comes from people who aren't involved with us every day and don't understand the ins and outs of what we are doing.

"We definitely aren't buying into it."

While Vatuvei has – time and again – proven himself to be a devastating force on the left wing for the Warriors, there's no doubting he is far from perfect when it comes to defending his edge.

He also appears to have lost a degree of pace and there's a school of thought that it might indeed be time for coach Brian McClennan to unleash him in his forward pack.

At 112 kilos, Vatuvei would comfortably slot in alongside the club's other big boppers and he admits it's something he's often thought about.

To him, it's more a question of when, rather than if.

"That's been going around for a while now. I've thought about it myself too," he says.

"But it comes down to what the coach wants me to do.

"I'll adapt to wherever they put me but playing on the wing is where I've always played.

"Brian and I have spoken about me playing at centre and in my head, I've always thought I'll end up in the forward pack.

"But it's something to look at down the track. At the moment, I'm focusing on doing my job on the wing and when they want me to change, I'll do it."

Sunday Star Times