A sight for sore eyes and a view to kill, Jorge Taufua’s return from injury would’ve been welcomed by NSW coach Laurie Daley as much as it was lamented by the man he tormented up and down Brookvale Oval, Sharks opposite number Nathan Stapleton.
Taking absolutely no notice of the four tries Stapleton bagged last week against the Warriors, Taufua belted and bullied the Sharks winger relentlessly throughout Manly’s 24-4 win over Cronulla, throwing his hat well and truly into the Origin wingers ring on a day when it was revealed Robbie Farah was racing the clock to be fit for the series opener six weeks away.
In just the third minute Taufua put any notions of easing his way into his first match in seven weeks well and truly on the backburner, swatting Stapleton aside as if he were a bug caught on a windshield before galloping downfield and laying on the afternoon’s opening try for Steve Matai.
By halftime the Wentworthville junior had bagged a four-pointer of his own, run for 116 metres and broken the line three times to put his name alongside the likes of Penrith’s Josh Mansour, the Roosters’ Daniel Tupou and Knights pair Akuila Uate and incumbent James McManus in the battle for the vacant NSW wing berth.
“I can’t say too much at the moment, it was only my first game back so I’m just worrying about club form,” Taufua said of his chances of lining up for the Blues at Suncorp Stadium on May 28.
“After a few more games building my confidence at club level, if my form is good enough I think I’ll be confident if I got the call up.
“I would love to pull on a Blues jersey one day.”
Skipper Jamie Lyon was more forthcoming on the 22-year-old’s representative prospects.
“I think he’s got that potential [to play Origin],” said Lyon. “He’s still only young and a bit more experience will do him well.
“I’m sure he’ll be in the mix there somewhere. I think he was in the mix there last year as well so we’ll just have to wait and see how he goes.”
But for the man wearing the sky blue jersey opposite him at Brookvale on Sunday, it would’ve been preferable had Taufua given that dislocated shoulder just one more week to completely recover.
The Manly flyer left Stapleton in his wake twice in the first 20 minutes before showing some fancy feet to pirouette his way through centre Blake Ayshord’s defence, scoring his 30th career try in just 51 appearances.
Even without the ball Taufua was relentless, rag-dolling Stapleton to the ground when the he had a rare sniff of the try line, having earlier plucked a cut-out ball intended for the unmarked Cronulla wingman from the air and cantering 70 metres upfield.
And in adding the ultimate insult to injury for Stapleton as a redemptive try went begging, an underdone Taufua was run down by prop Sam Tagataese, never mind that the infinitely quicker Stapleton had barely laid a hand on him all day.
“He’s pretty quick but there’s no excuse, obviously I need to work on some speed,” Taufua said of the Sharks’ big man who rounded him up and gave his Manly teammates plenty of ammunition for this week’s training sessions.
“In the first half Choc (Anthony Watmough) wouldn’t let it go. I don’t know if he’ll ever get over it.”
With three errors in the second half, all of which came with Manly on the attack and looking to add to a 20-0 halftime lead, there was certainly room for improvement, but coach Geoff Toovey said he was pleased with his young winger’s return, one that resulted in 2013’s leading try-scorer David Williams being relegated to the NSW Cup.
“He went OK,” mused Toovey at the post-match press conference before giving a wry smile to the raised eyebrows of the assembled media.
“No he was still a bit rusty, dropped a couple of balls, particularly in that second half... but he wasn’t on his own.
“He is a very strong athlete. It was a good confidence boost for him. He was very good for us today.
“It was very pleasing to see him get through with his shoulder as well, so that’s a confidence booster for him too for next week.”