Hiku eyes permanent place
He has been Manly's 'Mr Fix It' in 2013 but Peta Hiku is hoping one last match-winning performance against Penrith at Brookvale Oval might be enough to convince coach Geoff Toovey that he is more than simply a ready-made replacement come finals time.
An unknown at the start of the year after arriving from the Warriors in search of an opportunity, Hiku has surprised even himself with the progress he has made – having played nine games and covered everywhere from fullback to wing to centre and even a brief stint in the halves.
And although he knows he will make way for Brett Stewart when the Sea Eagles' star fullback returns for the finals next week, Hiku is hoping he will at least have done enough to earn a spot somewhere in the 17.
"It would be good to get a taste of finals footy and see what the atmosphere is like out there," the softly spoken 20-year-old told NRL.com this week. "Hopefully I get a chance to play in the finals.
"The games I've been playing, I've been trying to make the most of it and get my name out there. Hopefully I've done my job. The main thing is not to think about it and just do the best for the team filling in for those spots."
Hiku has certainly impressed this season despite rarely knowing what the current week is going to bring. Even more notable is the fact that he has done so despite having left his partner Faith and two-year-old daughter Ada Jane back home in Auckland while he chased his NRL dream.
Currently living in a share house in Belrose with teammates Jorge Taufua, James Hasson and Ligi Sao, he has also spent most weeks this year training as Manly's 18th man – often only informed the day before the game whether he was in or out of the team.
"It can be pretty tough just coming in any time someone gets injured," he said. "They always have me running as 18th man just in case someone gets injured in the warm-up. They always get me prepared to do that every week but I'm just going to have to get used to it. It would be good to play finals but the coach has to pick the strongest 17 out there so hopefully everyone is fit so he can do that.
"It's been a really good year for me anyway. Just to debut this year would have been good but it happened to turn out better than expected for me."
Having filled in on the wing last week in the absence of the suspended Taufua, Hiku gets his shot in his preferred fullback position against Penrith and says he has learnt a lot since debuting against Cronulla in round six.
"I remember when I played against Melbourne earlier in the year, I think I paid too much attention to the fact I was playing against Billy Slater and I probably didn't play my best footy," he said.
"I've learnt now that playing up against anyone – it could be Slater or it could be a new player like myself – [you] just worry about what you need to do and what the team needs to get done. That's where the focus needs to be throughout the week.
"This week I just need to focus on what I need to do which at fullback means more talk. I've got to talk more to the boys in the team, especially having Anthony Watmough out as well. Brett Stewart normally does all the talking himself and has everything under control so hopefully I can get the job done."