Former New Zealand International, Manu Vatuvei, Looks Ahead To Representing Tonga In This Year’s World Cup
After representing his country of birth, New Zealand, on almost thirty occasions, including two World Cup Tournaments, Salford Red Devils’ winger, Manu Vatuvei, will, in the next few weeks, be cementing his place in the team of the country of his heritage, The Kingdom of Tonga.
His qualifications for this come via his parents, both of whom had been born and bred there, before moving to New Zealand in 1984, and Manu was born there a couple of years later. He has, however, paid several visits to their country of origin, over the years, and in so doing has built up an affinity of his own with the place and its people.
Having made himself available for selection, he was delighted to make his debut for them in this season’s Pacific Nation’s Cup Match against Fiji, which he celebrated by scoring a try. It also dually gave him an opportunity to get to know any remaining players whom he had not already come across, playing in the NRL with New Zealand Warriors, and at the same time provided elation for his whole family who still pride themselves on their roots with the Pacific Islanders.
“It was a really emotional time for them all when I made the team,” he recalls.
Having been such an institution in the Kiwi’s side, over so long a time, he realises that it will feel different turning out for a country other than the New Zealand, particularly looking back over his time with them, which included, in 2008, their winning of the World Cup itself, beating the Australians on their home soil, 20-34, in the final.
This will be compounded all the more so with their both being in the same group, and meeting up against each other at the Waikato Stadium, Hamilton, in the third and final match of the Group Stage.
“It will be hard playing against the Kiwis after all those occasions in their team,” Manu predicts. “I shall just have to deal with the emotions and get on with the game.
“I am looking forward to the challenge though, and just hoping that everything comes off for us, because we will all definitely be up for this one.”
Despite this, however, it is the second of the three, against Samoa, which, surprisingly, Manu relishes most of all.
“I’ve always wanted to play for Tonga against Samoa, because they’ve always had such good battles, so that is the game of all of them I am most looking forward to,” he confirms.
Their opening match against the resurgent Scottish side, at Barlow Park, Cairns, underlines just how tightly contested this group is going to be, as Scotland have been an increasingly significant factor in the last two World Cup Competitions, under the guidance of our good friend and former Head Coach, Steve, McCormack.
“They’ve done extremely well over the years, and cannot be taken lightly,” concurs Manu. “The Kiwis found that out in last year’s Four Nations game at Workington, when they were made to struggle all the way by the Scots to make the semi-finals, and could only do so be means of an 18-18 draw.”
So an extremely difficult and challenging group for all concerned, but a tournament to which Manu is eagerly looking forward.
“One of our first objectives will be to improve on our 2013 performance,” he insists, “which did not go as well as it might have done. It was only by a win over Italy, at Halifax, in the last Group match, that they avoided the wooden spoon for their group, that time.”