May 28th, 2007 will go down as the blackest night of Manu Vatuvei’s playing career. It will also prove to be the most important.<br><br>On that Monday evening at Parramatta Stadium in the Warriors’ round 11 clash with the Eels - anything that could have gone wrong for the young man, did.<br><br>He dropped ball after ball in his team’s 30-6 loss with three of his errors leading directly to Parramatta tries. The harder he tried, the worse he got and the home side made sure they zeroed in on his bumbling display.<br><br>I remember watching the game and cringing at what he was experiencing. It was like a train wreck developing before your eyes.<br><br>You could only imagine what his coach Ivan Cleary was going through at the time. No doubt feeling sorry for his popular flanker, but also aware that he was continuing to contribute to the team’s demise.<br><br>The obvious thing would have been to drag him from the field and out of the firing line. After all, the scoreline is generally the bottom line when it comes to coaching.<br><br>To his eternal credit, Cleary resisted that temptation realising that for the long-term good of his player it was vital that he endured that most difficult of times.<br><br>Any other decision could have absolutely shattered the then 21 year olds’ confidence with the very real possibility of him never quite recovering from that setback.<br><br>After the game when questioned about leaving him on, Cleary simply stated “we’ve got a lot of faith in him”.<br><br>On what Manu has produced since, it is clear the faith has been justified and is being repaid in volumes.<br><br>His weekend hat-trick against the Sharks took his season try tally to five and continued a strong start to the new season.<br><br>Whilst each four-pointer was impressive, it was the final one which I found quite remarkable. <b><a href="http://www.nrl.com/gameAnalyser/tabId/10910/default.aspx?seasonID=240?seasonid=240&roundid=838&fixtureid=50020100203&videoquality=1&type=try&period=2&time=830" target="_blank">[Click here to see Manu's final try]</a></b><br><br>With no room to move, this man mountain produced a sublime change of pace to explode past a bewildered Luke Covell.<br><br>Everyone (including Covell) expected him to cut in-field and use his bulk to advance the football. It was a complete shock to all (including Covell) that the 110 kilo winger paused only to then slide down the side-line with a stunning burst of speed. It was the kind of movement more associated with a will-of-the-wisp Denan Kemp or Kevin Locke.<br><br>Such a smooth deception belied his nickname of “the Beast”. In any other profession that moniker may not be particularly complimentary but in the rugby league world it puts him up there with the likes of Noel “Crusher” Cleal, David “Cement” Gillespie and Ronnie “Rambo” Gibbs.<br><br>In a round that again featured some great attacking football, his was the best move of the weekend.<br><br>Fans love Manu Vatuvei and the modern game adores big, athletic wingers.<br><br>Their role has certainly changed. No longer can they be referred to as players who hang around with real footballers.<br><br>Today they are required to play like an extra forward with a high work-rate as well as making crucial decisions in defensive situations.<br><br>Wingers now not only carry the ball as much as front-rowers but have the added responsibility of very often starting their team’s set of six. How a side begins their possession usually determines the quality of that set of tackles.<br><br>If tackles 1 and 2 are dominant and carry momentum then 3, 4 and 5 will allow the attack time and space. Invariably this will put the kicker in a good position to finish the set in a positive fashion.<br><br>Vatuvei may have scored tries for his team at Mt. Smart but his returning of the football and early tackle charges were just as instrumental in the win.<br><br>In Wollongong, the Dragons' Brett Morris had a strikingly similar impact in both scoring points as well as in general play. It’s why he will be the NSW left wing if healthy come Origin time.<br><br>Defensively, wingers are also required to make game defining decisions especially with so many teams today using sweeping backline second-man plays with any number of decoy runners. <br><br>The smartest decisions are always made in partnership between winger and centre three-quarter. Knowing when to stay out or when to come in only works when both react in unison.<br><br>Unfortunately for wingers, it’s not only about in and out but up and back.<br><br>Obviously late in the tackle count they need to start drifting to be ready for the opposition “downtown” but the relatively new 40/20 is a constant consideration.<br><br>It’s therefore not easy to cover long kicks on possibly any tackle as well as a Cooper Cronk wide, flat kick or a deft Jarryd Hayne chip.<br><br>In highlighting the stature of today’s wingmen I’m not implying that smaller players don’t also have an impact. Both Hazem el Masri and Steve Turner played Origin in recent times.<br><br>It is just a fact that big wingers are more suited to supplying the benefits of an extra forward as well as often being less susceptible under the high ball. It’s also no coincidence that Brett Morris, Taniela Tuiaki, Shaun Kenny-Dowall, Israel Folau, Wendell Sailor and Manu Vatuvei all finished so high up on last year’s try scoring list.<br><br>And it's for this very reason there was never a doubt that the return of prodigal son Lote Tuqiri would be a major success.
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