Ma'u in frame for Kiwis
The extraordinary rise of Parramatta second-rower Manu Ma'u is set to continue with New Zealand coach Stephen Kearney seriously considering the late bloomer for the mid-year Test match against Australia on May 2.
Ma'u has played just six NRL games after making his debut in Round 1, but is set to cap off a stunning start to his career by running out for the Kiwis against club captain Jarryd Hayne in just three weeks time.
Five years ago, the former Auckland gang member was in jail for his part in a house brawl. Last Sunday, he got a call from Kearney to discuss representing his nation – and Hayne said he wouldn't be surprised if he does.
"He just gave me a wrap, pretty much, saying how good I've been going and to keep up the good work," Ma'u told NRL.com.
"It was unexpected. I was just worried about playing for Parra. But when I heard about that, I was like, everything's going so fast.
"I've met him once, over in New Zealand. But he just rang me to say that I've been going good and that whatever happens, he'll let me know."
While expressing surprise at the possibility of playing alongside the likes of Sonny Bill Williams and Shaun Johnson, the 26-year-old said he would use it as motivation to continue his job for the Eels.
"It'd be a dream just to play against Jarryd. But I'm not too worried about this Kiwis or whatever happens," he said.
"I'm just worrying about playing for the Eels. If it comes it'd be a bonus. It's just given me a bit of motivation, that's all."
The hard-hitting back-rower has been a revelation on Parramatta's right edge, lasting the entire 80 minutes in four of his six games so far.
"He's just been phenomenal," Hayne said. "I don't think I've seen someone debut and keep his form – his attitude, he's a leader in this team now.
"He's come here in his roundabout way but he doesn't look back. He's one of the hardest workers in the team and he's getting rewarded for it – he's in great form."
Hayne admitted he was unsure of Ma'u's playing ability prior to his debut, but was blown away by the incredible start to his career.
"He was at Wenty last year and I remember Sticky [former coach Ricky Stuart] saying that he's going to play next year, it's just a matter of time. [With] the salary cap we couldn't play him last year," he said.
"I hadn't seen him play but there were big raps on him and obviously he's blown a lot of people away. He's just blown me away, how great he's been going.
"I didn't realise how fit he was – to play 80 minutes in his first game was ridiculous, I don't think I've ever seen that [for a forward]. But he's come on in leaps and bounds, done his family proud [and] his country proud. He's going to come close to playing for New Zealand."