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Roosters centre Joseph Manu.

Joey Manu spent his first few years at the Roosters barely uttering a word, but he now looms as a key mentor for schoolboy sensation Joseph Suaalii and the glue in a right edge left reeling by the club's cruel injury pile-up.

Manu plays his 100th game against the Eels on Friday night, and is now the most senior player down his side after ACL ruptures to Brett Morris and Luke Keary.

The 24-year-old Kiwi has been charged with holding 18-year-old rising star Sam Walker, Nat Butcher and Matt Ikuvalu together against a red-hot Parramatta outfit, having emerged as arguably the best centre in the NRL.

It's a far cry from the shy teenager coach Trent Robinson fondly recalled this week, who would fly into the Roosters' Moore Park base each week from his tiny New Zealand hometown of Tokoroa – population 13,000 – to chase his NRL dream.

"It makes me smile when I think of Joey," Robinson said.

"I remember the shy kid at our old offices, he used to fly in from New Zealand and have to sit in the office all day and wait for training.

"He didn't say a word for six hours. He was this young kid that came and developed … and he just keeps developing thorough the grades.

"He's what typifies a Roosters player."

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Reflecting the status Manu is held in at the Tricolours, he has been charged with showing Suaalii the NRL ropes since his arrival in Robinson's ranks over the summer.

James Tedesco's successful recovery from concussion issues has him set to return at fullback and keep Suaalii on 18th man duties, though Robinson acknowledges the most highly anticipated NRL debut in years is drawing ever closer.

In the meantime, Manu presents as the perfect mentor for the teen tyro.

"The thing I love most about Joey, he's stuck to who he is the whole time," Robinson said.

"He's a family man, doesn't touch any alcohol. He's in the middle of a group of boys having fun, whether it's on a night out or in the player's lounge.

"[Manu and Suaalii] are very similar in the way they developed.

"They've got very similar traits in the way they play the game and see the game. They're good friends now, they're really close. That's been a real positive for Joseph Suaalii."

Like everyone at the Roosters, Manu was shattered after Saturday's win against the Knights with Morris's career likely over.

He will take the lead role against an Eels left-side attack marshalled by live-wire five-eighth Dylan Brown with the lessons learned from Morris still resonating.

"He's been around for a long time, he's got a lot of experience. He's obviously a big loss," Manu said of the 34-year-old legend.

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"He's been next to me for a while, so he's someone I looked to for a bit of help in the games and around training.

"It'll be tough not having him there, but I'm sure he'll be around, coming into our team meetings and right-edge meetings. I'll definitely still be getting stuff from him and trying to learn from him.

"[After the Newcastle game] I just said it's been a privilege to play together. It was probably our last game together.

"If I ever made a mistake, I knew that he would clean it up. That helped. But whenever I needed help, I would just ask him, 'What should I have done better?' And the next time I would do it."

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Manu's New Zealand-based family, who he was reunited with in April after 15 months apart due to travel restrictions, will be in the stands for his milestone match against Parramatta.

Having debuted as a winger in 2016, Manu still struggles to comprehend the heights he has already scaled - two premierships, eight Tests for New Zealand - so early in his career.

"It feels like it's gone quick now but it's been a long ride. It's pretty exciting, I'm really excited to play," he said.

"My family is [excited] - they're the ones who have been telling me every week that it's coming up. They'll be here for the weekend and they'll shoot back [to New Zealand] after that.

"I didn't really realise I'd play one game and then now I'm playing 100. It's surreal. It's definitely something I'm proud of."

 

NRL Magic Round Brisbane 1-Day & 3-Day Passes are now on sale with eight massive games across round 10 at Suncorp Stadium this May. With the league's best players all heading to Brisbane, you'd hate to miss it! Tickets at NRL.com/Tickets.