Milestone-man Mannering lauded by Warriors
Stephen Kearney has led a chorus of tributes to Simon Mannering ahead of his 300th NRL appearance against Canberra on Friday night, likening the workaholic back-rower's career to AFL great Matthew Pavlich.
The Warriors coach wondered out loud if Mannering's milestone – achieved over 14 seasons and entirely for the Auckland club - was more impressive than others to have reached 300 first grade games given the relentless trans-Tasman air travel he's endured.
"He's the [club's] most decorated player and it can't be undersold, the fact that he's played 300 games for this footy club and every other week he's got to travel across to Australia and back," Kearney said.
"If I look at the AFL as an example of that, over in Western Australia, I only know one player who's played 300 games for the Fremantle Dockers, Pavlich.
"My point is, it's a pretty significant achievement that he's had to deal with all of that too, and still knock out all of the tackles that he knocks out and the minutes that he plays.
"I just think he's a wonderful guy and a wonderful player."
The Warriors held a team lunch for their former captain on Monday but are determined to instead focus on the Raiders, at the bequest of Mannering. They want to ensure they kick on from last week's thrashing of the Panthers and take momentum into September.
"I know coming up here [to one of the Warriors training fields] and seeing his name painted on the in-goal there, there's also a big mural being painted down next to the club of him, I know he's not real comfortable with it all but the idea is just to get it out of the way early and focus on what's important for us," Kearney said.
That refocus came after Mannering's team-mates verbalised their respect for the 31-year-old former Kiwis captain and 45 Test veteran who eclipsed Stacey Jones' club record of 261 appearances last year.
All the players and management have grown facial hair, with varying degrees of success, as a nod to Mannering's patented "neck beard", but are otherwise mindful of keeping celebrations muted.
After all, Friday could be his final home match, even if the Raiders are beaten at Mt Smart Stadium.
"Anyone that knows Simon knows that he doesn't want too much of a fuss about it," halfback Shaun Johnson said.
"He wants to get it all out of the way nice and early so we can focus on the game this weekend. We'll definitely celebrate it today and get to work because I think the best thing we can do for him is perform well on Friday night."
Second-rower Adam Blair met Mannering when they gathered as newcomers in the 2006 Kiwis squad and insists he hasn't changed.
"He's a special person who has done some great things at this club through, I guess, some tough times and being able to stand up through that adversity, he deserves everything he gets over this week and after his career," Blair said.
"It's phenomenal [300 games]. He'd most probably be the first player you'd pick in any team if you were a coach because you know what you are going to get from Simon. He won't let you down whatever he does."
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Prop James Gavet rated Mannering a "real professional" who had lifted standards on and off the field.
"He's not much of a talker so when he does, you can hear a pin drop in the room," Gavet said.
"He's very selfless and has been one of those unsung heroes for years. He deserves all the praise that is coming to him."
Winger David Fusitu'a leads the Telstra Premiership try-scoring race with 21 and has undoubtedly benefited from Mannering's selfless toil.
"He's probably like the best guy off the field and that just transfers into his footy ... you can always rely on him," said Fusitu'a.
"He leads with his actions and ever since I've come to the club, he's just been so welcoming, just a real good dude off the field and such a hard worker on it."
The final word was left to Kearney, who recalled Kiwis sides featuring Mannering going on to glory.
"I think he's won two big tournaments with the New Zealand side - at the 2008 World Cup and the 2010 Four Nations - playing in the centres, because we needed him to. And that's the type of fella that he is. He's very good to have in your team … he is a guy who [has always] put the team first," Kearney said.
"He epitomises what we're trying to build here at the club, has all the characteristics of what we're trying to achieve. No doubt about that."