Boxing training for his Fight for Life charity bout has brought back Warriors hero Manu Vatuvei's inner "Beast".
The league superstar is taking on Olympic gold medal hero Eric Murray on Saturday night.
Vatuvei has been punished into fighting condition for the match-up by former Warriors and Kiwis hardman, ex-professional boxer Monty Betham.
And Vatuvei - known to fans as "The Beast" for his rampaging runs that leave would-be tacklers in their wake - says Betham's regimen has hardened him mentally and physically after a disappointing NRL season for the giant wing.
"It [the boxing training] is working on mental toughness . . . everything that I think I was lacking last season," Vatuvei told Sunday News.
"And fitness-wise, I couldn't cope with the fatigue [in the 2012 season]. But all the stuff with boxing is working really well. I can cope with the fatigue . . . I have also lost a bit of weight."
Their bout, at West Auckland's Trusts Stadium, will pit two of New Zealand's most popular sporting champions against each other.
Vatuvei has played 20 tests for the Kiwis, and is the first player to score 100 first-grade tries for the Warriors. Murray, with Hamish Bond, won gold in the men's coxless pairs at this year's London Olympics. Murray and Bond are also triple world champions in that event, and Murray was a member of the 2007 men's coxless four world champs.
Vatuvei said: "I totally respect Eric, especially what he has done for the country. He hasn't lost a race for many years, he's a top bloke . . . but I know I will be up to the challenge. All I can concentrate on is what Monty is teaching me and try and learn all the stuff he is doing."
He was approaching taking on Murray in the boxing ring in the same manner as he did when marking a rival winger in the NRL who was also a personal friend, Vatuvei said.
"You don't ever take anyone lightly, especially if you respect them," he said.
"I'll be going out there to do my best and put on a show for everyone."
Vatuvei was both "pretty excited and nervous" about the bout. His boxing style would simply revolve around being "smart".
After a series of sparring sessions under the watchful eye of Betham over the past fortnight, he had become used to punches being thrown at him.
Asked if he was now also used to throwing punches, Vatuvei said: "Yeah . . . I'm not trying to hurt anyone . . . but knowing that the other person is trying to hurt you, you want to get them before they get you."
A source who had seen him in action with Betham, said "The Beast" had been "training the house down". And Vatuvei said he was likely to continue training with Betham throughout next season.
"I will continue this . . . it's working for me at the moment and I'm liking it [boxing], even though it is a really tough sport," he said.
Vatuvei said he battled "self doubt" at times during 2012. "I am the type of person that is really hard on myself," he said. "Whenever I do something bad on the field, it always takes me a while to get over it.
"It is something I have been working hard on and have been getting some motivation on how we [the Warriors] went last season. I am now extra motivated to come back next season hungrier, stronger and better for the team."
- © Fairfax NZ News