Quick to make an impression at last year's tournament, Parramatta Eels wrecking ball Manu Ma'u is keen to play at the Auckland Nines again, as he looks to complete his comeback from a serious arm injury.
Parramatta fans were left asking "Manu who?" this time last year when the back-rower was named in the club's squad for the inaugural Nines tournament, but now they can't wait for him to throw on the jersey again.
After a breakout performance at the tournament last year, Ma'u played 13 first grade games before a broken arm prematurely ended his season.
"Nobody knew who I was when I [played the Nines] last year but they do now," Ma'u laughed.
"The arm is at 100 per cent. I'm just really keen to play now. I came into pre-season fully fit and I was doing contact from the get go. I'm raring to go.
"I can't wait to get over there. It gives me a chance to go home to my family and then my family gets to watch me play. It's good because I'm doing something positive for them so they can be proud of me."
Despite only playing half the season in his debut year, Ma'u has become somewhat of a cult figure at Parramatta, with his popularity growing to a point where he is now recognised on the streets.
With the fans behind him, the once unknown Ma'u has been inspired by the positiveness surrounding him – a far stretch from the jail cell he spent time in back home in New Zealand.
"Everytime I go out with my family, Eels fans come up to me and tell me that I had a good game and stuff, and because of them I know I have to work hard every week to stay where I want to be," Manu told NRL.com.
"It inspires me because it's positive, they're coming up to me and saying positive stuff which is good. Before footy it was all negative, but now it's all good and my family is really proud of me. It motivates me to keep going and to help my family as well."
Under the watchful eye of coach Brad Arthur, Ma'u said his confidence is high leading into his second year of first grade, it's just a matter of now carving a spot in the team for the Eels opening game of the season against the Sea Eagles on March 6.
"[Pre-season] has been pretty full on, but it's been good. Last year [Arthur] came in late and had to rush the schedule, but this year everything has been all sorted and all balanced. He has just told us to go out onto the paddock and train hard," Ma'u said.
"I'm pretty keen for the season to start but throughout the pre-season I've learnt heaps every week and it's only going to help me with my game this year."