Vatuvei embraces Tongan debut
He may have 226 appearances in the NRL Telstra Premiership and 29 test caps for the Kiwis to his name but Manu Vatuvei is the new guy on the block in the Tongan line-up to play Fiji on Saturday.
A late call-up following the withdrawal of Titans centre Konrad Hurrell, the 31-year-old is set to partner young Wests Tigers rookie Moses Suli on the left-edge after a stop-start season at the Warriors.
Speaking to NRL.com ahead of his first appearance in the Tongan jersey, the man known as 'The Beast' jumped at the chance to represent Tonga with a proud family heritage on the island before moving to New Zealand.
"I got really emotional when 'Woolfy' (Tonga coach Kristian Woolf) called me to come into camp… I put my hand up straight away," Vatuvei said.
"I thought I would have another week at training with the Warriors but then when I got the call it was about not only wanting to play for my country but my family and parents who were living in Tonga and brought us to New Zealand to have a better life.
"It's really important for me to embrace every moment that I have in camp and when I play."
Despite expressing his disappointment at not being able to play arch-rivals Samoa for the occasion, Vatuvei will take on Sea Eagles winger Akuila Uate for the 10th time in their careers with Fiji's confidence sky high after winning both matches between the two nations.
Vatuvei joked both he and Uate were working in tandem after being overlooked for Australia and New Zealand in the last three years, through to both being injured with knee problems last season and to now representing a second country.
Coincidently for the duo, both were also called in as late replacements with Uate taking the void left by former Knights teammate Tariq Sims (Country Origin) in the Fijian line-up.
"I feel we kind of know each other's next move and always try and find a way to play each other," he said with a smile.
"On the field Aku and I always have a great battle but off the field we're best mates. Whatever happens on the park stays out there and never carries off and that's what I love about our battle over the years.
"Aku has been playing well for Manly so it's going to be a tough task for myself, I see myself as really old now so I'm keen to see how my legs handle trying to chase him again.
"We always have a good laugh about how we went and whenever there is a stoppage during a game we always try and make the other one smile and try to mock the each other that way."
Both Tonga and Fiji squads will feature at the Pacific Test Fan Day at Blacktown Sportsground on Wednesday afternoon from 4pm with all fans welcome to attend the event in Sydney's west.