Highlanders' Manu fighting fit for new season

NATHAN BURDON
Last updated 05:00 15/02/2014
Nasi Manu
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WATCHING ON: Highlanders co-captain Nasi Manu works the sideline during a pre-season game in Queenstown earlier this year.

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Highlanders co-captain Nasi Manu's foot will never heal properly, but otherwise he feels close to his best ahead of the start of the Super Rugby season.

The 25-year-old ruptured a ligament in his foot in the opening round loss to the Chiefs last year and spent seven months on the sidelines, only returning late in the NPC to help lead Canterbury to a sixth-straight domestic title.

It was a frustrating time for Manu, who was only able to watch on as the Highlanders endured a long and disappointing season.

"Mentally it was quite tough. It was hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel. I managed to get through it, [but] what also made it tougher was that the boys weren't going too good and I felt for the team that I couldn't help them," he said.

"Especially getting injured in the first game. It was tough watching the boys battle. Hopefully this year will be a better year and I'll get more game time."

Manu's foot injury remains in the background. He had surgery to insert screws and has to manage his workload.

"Even now, it's not a hundy like it used to be, but it's the best it's going to get. Whenever I do too much running the pain comes back. It's just one of those things that I'll have for the rest of my career," he said.

"I feel like I'm in personal best fitness. I'm in good nick for it, but I just want to stay out on the field. Getting game time and performing consistently is a big goal for me."

Having been a co-captain with Canterbury last season, Manu assumes the same role alongside Ben Smith with the Highlanders this year.

"I'm excited for the challenge. I don't usually talk much, I'm more head down and doing the hard yards. I guess being given more of a leadership role I need to speak up and motivate the other boys and set high standards for myself and the team. I'm really enjoying it, although it's been a bit gutting that I've had another injury to the pec which hasn't allowed me play any of the pre-season games."

The Highlanders, written off in many quarters before the season even begins, will try to put a line in the sand in their season opener against the Blues at Dunedin Stadium on Saturday night.

"We plan to earn some respect. We are trying to get [the fans] to come week in, week out. Having the Blues at home could potentially be a good start, if we can get on top of them," Manu said.

"I think we've got a lot of exciting talent that's joined us this year. I just can't wait. We won't know how we are going to go until we are into the season, but our pre-season we've worked really hard and created a really good team environment where the boys are willing to give their all every training."

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