The tale of the general and the cadet
On Saturday night at Mt Smart Stadium, Simon Mannering and Bunty Afoa were in many ways rugby league chalk and cheese.
Mannering being the Kiwi club's most-experienced player on the park, having just taken the field in his 250th NRL match, and Afoa the baby of the team, a late addition to make his first-grade debut off the bench.
But an hour after full-time, the general and the cadet found themselves sitting next to each other in the dressing room, both basking in the glory of a hard-fought 27-18 victory over the Gold Coast Titans.
"That was one of the greatest moments, to be sitting next to a legend (Mannering) who is still playing the game," Afoa said.
"When I saw him I was proud to be in that jersey, and I always will be."
The night before the match both players received an unexpected call from coach Andrew McFadden, Afoa's to inform him he would be making his NRL debut in the place of Ryan Hoffman, who missed the match due to a virus, and Mannering's to make him aware he would be captaining the side in the absence of Hoffman.
"When I found out I went straight to sleep," said Afoa, who played 35 minutes against the Titans, running for 50 metres and making 24 tackles.
"I had a cup of coffee then I just went to sleep... I woke up and it didn't feel real, here I was debuting, it was a dream come true.
"I didn't tell my mum and dad until [the day of the game]... it was good, mum and dad were emotional.
"You train so hard in the pre-season to get that one shot and to see mum and dad proud, that's the best reward you can have."
Meanwhile McFadden said Mannering made little mention of the milestone all week, preparing for the match "exactly the same as he has been for the other 249 games."
"He is pretty laid back, no fuss, he doesn’t like the fuss," McFadden said.
"But I am sure he did enjoy it deep down."
Carrying his two children in his arms, Mannering was welcomed to the field by a haka performed by players from the club’s reserve-grade team – as well as the injured Manu Vatuvei – before going on to make 38 tackles in an 80-minute performance.
"It was pretty cool tonight actually, I tried to keep it as low key as I could through the week, but it was pretty special tonight," Mannering said.
"All the messages of support through the week from guys I played alongside years ago, it's pretty humbling. It's definitely a night I will cherish at the end of my career.
"I just feel so privileged to have had the chance to play at this club for so long, and to get support like that today from teammates.
"I was probably a bit more nervous [than usual] to be honest, I guess you have got the extra focus on you through the week."
After the win over the Gold Coast the Warriors have jumped back into the NRL Telstra Premiership top eight for the time being, and will have Round 18 off with a bye.