Vatuvei into the forwards for Auckland Nines
One of the NRL's most prolific try-scoring wingers is set to be given a new role at the NRL Auckland Nines, with Manu Vatuvei confirming he will play primarily as a forward during the tournament.
Despite playing 10 seasons of first grade exclusively as a winger, Vatuvei will be rotated with front-rowers Ben Matulino, Suaia Matagi and Sione Lousi in a move which will have opposition forward packs on high alert.
"I don't think I will be quick enough for the flanks," Vatuvei said at the naming of the Warriors Nines squad on Friday afternoon.
"I will save myself for the forwards and swap around with big Ben [Matulino] and Sione Lousi.
"That will be the only time I will be in the forwards, when I come back to the 13-man game I will be on the flanks."
The 28-year-old's inclusion in the 22-man squad came only after a late night text message to coach Andrew McFadden, who had initially suggested Vatuvei should rest up after a long 2014 season which included winning the Four Nations with the Kiwis.
"I was pretty jealous at last year's Nines to be honest," Vatuvei said.
"I wanted to play but I had a few setbacks which meant I couldn't. I am ready this year and I made sure I came back in shape.
"I think it was a new challenge for myself and something to motivate me to keep training hard during the break.
"I met up with 'Cappy' [in December] and we spoke about it and he thought that it would be safer for me to stay out of the Nines.
"I got home and thought 'change of plan' something sparked in me and I wanted to be in the Nines.
"Getting into the Nines will be really exciting… I think after what happened last year all the boys were excited, and I think that is the same for the other teams as well.
"The boys want to have a taste of it and be a part of it."
Vatuvei forms part of what is a vastly experienced Warriors outfit for the tournament at Eden Park, with 2014 Holden Cup players Sam Lisone, Solomone Kata, Nathaniel Roache and Ken Maumalo the only members without any NRL experience.
Coach Andrew McFadden said the club owed it to their fans to put forward their best possible side, despite the risk of injury.
"There are a few omissions there – Konrad Hurrell and Glen Fisiiahi – those guys are injured so weren't considered for selection. [But] of the squad that is it's a pretty strong group.
"We have got an obligation as the host city, we represent New Zealand and want to do well for New Zealand fans.
"We want to have a crack at it, we want to have a real go and try and win it."
Meanwhile McFadden resisted the urge to follow in the footsteps of the Sea Eagles, Roosters and Raiders in naming a former club legend, preferring to field his new signings and players who will compete for NRL spots in 2015.
"We thought about it… Ruben (Wiki) was knocking on my door as well, but we are taking it seriously and we do also want to give an opportunity to the young guys. If you were to play those older guys that just means someone misses out."