Ninety-nine. In sport, it's a number that teases. One that hints at greatness, but requires one final yawning step to achieve it. It needles the individual at a milestone not yet reached, but one that must inevitably fall.
Warriors winger Manu Vatuvei has his first opportunity to claim that milestone at Mt Smart Stadium against the slumping Sharks this afternoon.
When he does, Vatuvei will become the first Warrior to ever score 100 tries for the club, and just the second-ever Kiwi, after Nigel Vagana, to score a century of four-pointers in the NRL's first grade.
Yet of all those tries, all those up-and-under stunners, only one really comes to mind for "The Beast". His first, against the Rabbitohs at Mt Smart Stadium, in round four 2004, when a young afro-headed Vatuvei was still only 19.
"I still remember it until this day," Vatuvei told the Sunday Star-Times.
"Stacey Jones put a kick through and I dived over. I think it's really the only try I always remember from the past.
"The first is always one you remember."
Though arguably one of the greatest league wingers New Zealand has ever produced, the 26-year-old remains humble when asked about his record.
"Wingers and centres - they score a few tries," he said.
" I wouldn't have done it without the boys or the past guys I used to play with. I never thought that anyone would ever go past 100 for the club. I'll be really happy to be the first one to do that - and incredibly proud."
Pride is a quality Vatuvei has been beaming with in recent weeks. With incumbent skipper Simon Mannering nursing an ankle injury last weekend, coach Brian McClennan made the 147-game first-grade veteran his captain against the Sea Eagles in Perth. It wasn't the best start for Vatuvei's Warriors' captaincy, with the side blowing a 18-0 lead to go down 24-22.
That defeat means today's clash is absolute must-win material if the Warriors harbour any hopes of making this year's top eight.
Vatuvei, again the skipper , has been in this place before with the Warriors. He knows that if his team can play 80-minute football, the hint of playoff footy can become something more.
"We just know we have to play the ball for the full 80 and make sure we just keep on playing throughout the whole 80 how we start the game," Vatuvei said.
Like any sport, statistics reveal just as much as they hide in league. Metres are rumbled up, offloads thrown and counted, tackles made.
But what do those numbers mean without victory? And what do they truly reveal of the athlete themselves?
For Vatuvei, 99 tries only hints at his journey. Of metres made, tacklers fended off, or bombs collected. Of the dozens of balls fumbled, passes gone astray, and hours of talkback callers bagging him.
Of the grit it took to stand back up, dust himself off, and head back into battle. On the cusp of history, Vatuvei doesn't think twice when asked if he'd sacrifice his milestone try for a spot for the Warriors in the top eight.
"One hundred per cent," he said.
"Especially trade it for being into the grand final and winning it.
"That's one thing I've always wanted to do with my career - is to be in the finals and to win it all. I've been in a final now, and to win it is in my list."
One hundred tries may show the prowess of a great league winger. His willingness to surrender a record for the team shows something even greater.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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