The beauty of the beast
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Before the National Rugby League season progresses any further, we need to understand and accept that the Warriors didn't just pay a winger far too much money when they re-signed Manu Vatuvei. They invested in one of the best role models the game has to offer.
Since Vatuvei signed a two year contract extension and became one of the longest serving Warriors in the process, rugby league fans have suggested he isn't worth it. The general consensus is that Vatuvei patrols the flanks, makes too many mistakes, doesn't score enough tries and generally just doesn't do much. These people are wrong.
Some fans have even gone as far to suggest Vatuvei belongs elsewhere. If not at another club, but in the second row. This is despite already having crucified him for being prone to error and questioning his decision making skills. Fans are saying he screws up more often than any other player in the NRL.
Let me admit that I was sceptical about Vatuvei at the start of the year. I was one of these people that felt the Warriors' spine was more important. I used to think that the money spent on Manu Vatuvei might be better off securing talent from elsewhere. I too felt he made far too many errors, and didn't trample enough people anymore. I thought he was looking on the slow side.
I was wrong too.
In 2013 Vatuvei has been a key part of the Warriors' revival, both on and off the field. He's made 11 errors in the NRL to date, which adds up to just over one a game. Shocking, I know. His error prone ways are downright disgusting when you look at some other stars of the game, like Manly's workhorse Jamie Lyon. He's made 15 errors, and English poster boy Sam Burgess has made 14 himself. Yet no one seems to bother putting the magnifying glass on them. It seems as though every time Vatuvei drops the ball, the blind regain their sight, if but for a moment.
As for those who think Vatuvei doesn't score enough anymore, or shies away from work in general, you need to visit your local optometrist. He takes the first or second hit up of a set often, known as the hardest plays to make in a game. On the wing he has to search for work to get involved, but despite that, Vatuvei has run for more metres this year than most of the Warriors' roster. The only people above him are Ben Matulino and Feleti Mateo, both having played the full 14 games so far, and Jacob Lillyman. If only Vatuvei did more work.
Did I mention Manu has scored the most tries this year for the Warriors?
He's only played 10 games, but from that he's already crossed the line and pointed to the sky nine times, including that marauding, rampant full field gallop down the sideline against the Roosters to lock the game down. He's sitting at seventh place on the NRL's try scoring list this season. Gosh, talk about a player no longer living up to his potential.
I can't understand why critics have failed to see that Vatuvei looks to be in the best form of his life. He's stringing games together, so far avoiding injury, and in my opinion defuses bombs more often than not. Unfortunately for him, people only seem to remember the balls he drops.
With this being said, Vatuvei's contract extension might still seem a bit wasteful. After all, a potential superstar can't take a team to the big show, just ask Jonathan Thurston and the Cowboys. Luckily for the Warriors though, they know they've locked down something more than just a player, more than just a try scorer with a heart warming grin and a smile bigger than George Rose.
In Vatuvei, the Warriors have surely secured one of the greatest role models the game currently has to offer. And what a time to do it, because I can't remember having ever read an article involving the beast drunk, in town being a menace, driving his car intoxicated or groping women and avoiding training to drink vodka cruisers and abuse instagram. Vatuvei has never embarrassed the fans, or this nation.
The Warriors have extended the contract of one of the most devastating players on the field, and at the same time, one of the most gentle and reserved off of it. He embodies every single value the Warriors and every other NRL club should hope to encourage. Vatuvei is dedicated and loyal, friendly, confident despite the horrors of an Eels game many years ago, obviously loving to his club, and generally the consummate professional. He might not be the best public speaker, but in my opinion that just makes him more human. It shows kids in this country actions speak louder than words, because people love Vatuvei for who he is and how he's conducted himself, not what he says.
I can promise you one thing. He's likely to spend the rest of the game burning with desire, a grimace of dedication and determination painted across his face, tearing into the defensive line ball in hand to right that wrong and get something done for his team.
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