Uate rediscovers killer form
Akuila Uate's career was at a crossroad midway through last season, out of form and out of favour at Newcastle. It looked a sad demise for the one-time crowd favourite and all-time leading try scorer for the club.
The three-time Dally M Winger of the Year was discarded from first grade after Round 12 and never pulled on the red and blue jersey again.
For the first time in his career, he wasn't enjoying his footy. It stopped being fun and it showed. His form was down and it was affecting him badly on and off the field.
When coach Trent Barrett threw Uate a lifeline to join the Sea Eagles, the proud Fijian wasn't exactly received with open arms by the Manly faithful thanks largely to a high profile player swap in the off-season with much-loved clubman Jamie Buhrer.
That was out of Uate's control, but he has since gained a new lease on life and is quickly proving the doubters wrong in the best possible way.
"I'm very thankful that Trent has given me this opportunity to play for Manly," Uate said.
"The last two years I was really down on my footy. I had to pick it up really fast and this year Trent has given me some tips to just keep doing my job.
"What also gives me confidence is the fans that talk me down.
"That's a good thing about me, I don't look at the negatives, I look at the positives and if I keep practicing and catching those high balls and doing great for the team I'm happy."
Manly's back three has become a three-man wrecking crew this season, averaging 500 metres per game between them. Uate has made the third-most metres at the club, only behind Tom Trbojevic and Jorge Taufua.
The Fijian has also made the most tackle breaks (a whopping 23) and made the second most line breaks (5), only one behind Trbojevic.
The powerful runs are not only helping Manly get out of trouble, they are laying the platform to turn defence in to offence – in a hurry.
"I honestly believe he was our best player at the weekend," hooker Apisai Korisau said of Uate.
"His carries coming back in yardage, and under those high balls were amazing, I think he has really found his feet here and has really looked happy.
"The Roosters forward pack was really big, the forwards had to do a big job in the middle there. All the pressure [our back three] took off our middles by churning through the metres is really tiring their forwards is huge for us."
Partner in crime Tom Trbojevic gets a birds-eye view of the carnage Uate has left behind making the hardest of runs. His ability in the opening rounds to defuse the high ball and then break tackles and get Manly's set off to a moving start has been crucial.
"It's awesome having him," Trbojevic said.
"On the back of him and Jorge on the wing, it is ridiculous. You sit there and you just let them run into them, they keep charging forward and you go 'wow'. He caught every ball and carried it back 10 and 15 metres every time. Watching him play is very enjoyable."
But the 29-year-old is not letting his fast start go to his head. In fact, it has made him even more determined to keep proving the doubters wrong and that starts with simple discipline.
Uate is focussed on the number 20. Twenty catches. That is how many balls in a row he must catch every training session before he can call it quits.
From the team's halves to coach Barrett himself, Uate demands all manner of spiralling, rain-inducing bombs be kicked his way after training. And he must catch 20 in a row. No shortcuts, no exceptions. No excuses.
"The last few weeks I've been trying to catch 20 balls straight. If I drop one, I've got to finish catching all those balls," Uate said.
"It is all about preparation and doing the little thing right, if you practice you feel comfortable.
"That is part of our job. That is what we do to help the team, I'm never going to get bored of it.
"I'm never going to get bored with it, I'm just going to keep on doing it."
You get the sense Uate is anything but bored at his new club.