Tributes flow for record-breaking Vatuvei
Big Manu Vatuvei is getting pretty used to breaking rugby league records.
He already has more four-pointers than any other Warrior in club history, is the highest try-scoring Kiwi international of all time and the most prolific New Zealand try-scorer ever in the Telstra Premiership.
But his most recent accolade is one so remarkable it's not even a record as such, because no-one has ever achieved it before.
After 107 years of premiership rugby league in Australia, Vatuvei became the first player ever to score 10 or more tries across 10 consecutive seasons, after crossing in the 34th minute of Saturday night's 25-21 loss to the Roosters at Mt Smart Stadium.
It was a 'Beast' classic too. A slight step off the left leg - a part of his game which goes mostly unappreciated in comparison to his power and pace - followed by contact with two defenders who hardly even upset the balance of his 112kg frame.
In the minutes and hours which followed the tributes for Vatuvei flowed heavy.
Past teammates such as Pita Godinet and Monty Betham reached out to him on Twitter, as did former NSW Blues winger Steve Turner, while Roosters rookie Jackson Hastings also recognised the giant Kiwi's feat after the game.
The previous owner of the records for most tries by a Kiwi international and most tries by a New Zealander in the NRL, Nigel Vagana, said he is in awe of his 29-year-old countryman.
"That's a pretty special achievement, and I guess doing it at a club like the Warriors that haven’t sort of been at the top of the table for a lot of those years is even more amazing," Vagana told NRL.com.
"Even when the team was struggling Manu was still producing, and I think that shows how hard Manu worked on his role in the team and doing as much as he could."
Playing arguably his best footy in a career now spanning 11 seasons, Vatuvei's 10 tries in 11 games has him on track to match his most prolific year in 2010, when he scored 20 in just 19 appearances.
That continued improvement in a game which is constantly evolving is a testament to Vatuvei's work ethic and attitude according to Vagana.
"He has sort of proven over the years that he can rise to the occasion, every setback he has had - and he has had some bumps along the way - his resilience and character has really shown through," said Vagana, who now works as an education and welfare officer with the NRL.
"He's done really, really well.
"Earlier in his career he copped a bit of a hammering with a lot of people saying things like 'he's not ready yet', 'he's too young' or 'his hands aren’t good enough', so for him to come out the other side and smash all these records is a real blessing for the game.
"A couple of years ago he missed out on the Kiwis and had a few setbacks. He did a lot of work that off-season doing extra training with 'Rubes' (Ruben Wiki), and I think that change in mentality is really starting to show now.
"It looks like he is getting younger every game."
The moment on Saturday night wasn't lost on those who work alongside Vatuvei every day at club level either.
Coach Andrew McFadden described it as a "massive achievement" and one which may never be reached again in rugby league, while rookie teammate Ken Maumalo was just happy to be part of it on the field.
"It was special, man… he's a huge role model to me and I was just happy for him," Maumalo said to NRL.com post-game.
"I hope he continues to do it for the next couple of years for us."
And while all of the individual achievements mean little to Vatuvei right now – as he puts it, "if I focus too much on the stats there is no point in me playing," – Vagana said they will mean more in retirement.
"I think most players are like that. I really didn’t take much notice when I was playing, it's not until you finish," Vagana said.
"I think Manu will be the same, we play this game as a team sport, you don’t think of yourself as an individual.
"Once he does leave the game he will look back on a career that was pretty special and pretty unique."
Manu Vatuvei's strike rate over the past 10 seasons
2006: 10 tries
2007: 10 tries
2008: 16 tries
2009: 13 tries
2010: 20 tries
2011: 12 tries
2012: 12 tries
2013: 16 tries
2014: 17 tries
2015: 10 tries (after Round 14)