Kearney rules out Vatuvei forward switch
Manu Vatuvei won't be finishing his NRL Telstra Premiership career in the forwards, at least not while Stephen Kearney is his coach.
With the 31-year-old having fallen behind Ken Maumalo, David Fusitu'a and rookie Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad in the race for a wing spot in the first-grade side, there have been suggestions that Vatuvei could bring his 226 games worth of experience to the pack as an impact forward off the bench.
But despite his 189cm and 109kg frame appearing to be ready-made for the forwards, Kearney told NRL.com it would be a step too far at this stage of Vatuvei's career.
"I think it is too much of a challenge to play 200 games on the wing and then play what is a totally different position in the middle of the park," Kearney said.
"I don't think that's a possibility, not in the near future anyway.
"For me there's an element to the game where if you get an even share of the football you have got to defend also, so the point with that one is that Manu has played on the wing for over 200 games and has probably had to make at the most 10 tackles in one game.
"In the forwards that's a bare minimum, so I do think it would be a pretty challenging transition."
Vatuvei is named as 18th man for the Warriors ahead of Saturday's clash against the Manly Sea Eagles in Perth, but has hardly featured in the NRL frame previously this year.
The veteran Kiwi managed just 53 minutes in his sole first-grade appearance before succumbing to a knee injury in Round 3 against the Bulldogs, while a calf injury in the captain's run ahead of the Round 10 meeting with the Penrith Panthers added to his frustrating run with injuries.
Still revered at Mount Smart Stadium, particularly among the club's young Pacific Island players who see Vatuvei as a cultural leader, his demise hasn't been easy for many to watch.
"I have thought about that lately and it's hard to see Manu like that," prop Albert Vete told NRL.com.
"When I first came into the NRL I saw the hunger and determination he had every time he took the field and to see that taken away from him is sort of sad.
"I see him trying so hard in the gym, his body, appearance wise, looks like it's in the best shape ever, and he loves to show us he has got a six pack.
"But his body has been through so much stress over the 13 or so years he has been playing. It was always going to take a toll."
Meanwhile Kearney said the door remains wide open for Vatuvei to reclaim a spot on the wing this season, but suggested there would need to be injuries or suspensions to others in the backline first.
"There's always opportunity, it's the nature of our business, I can't tell you what's going to happen this weekend in terms of injury or whatever the case," Kearney said.
"Manu has kept himself in wonderful shape and is a player who has been around a long time, so he will know if he is called on to do a job that he will be ready.
"In fairness to him he is probably trying too hard to get himself right. But if he is called on I am 100 per cent sure he will be ready to go."