Joseph Manu could be forgiven if he was kicking stones after missing out on first-grade selection at the back-end of the 2017 season but the dynamic outside back went onto become a key figure in the Wyong Roos quest for premiership glory.
Although fighting valiantly throughout the brutal contest, the Roos were unable to climb back from a flurry of tries from the Panthers as they went down 20-12 in the grand final on Sunday night.
When Johnny Tuivasa-Sheck scored a crucial try in the last 10 minutes - courtesy for a magical cut-out pass from Manu, it was clear the Roos intentions were to shift the ball early to allow the elusive centre to work his magic in the hope of sparking a potential comeback.
He constantly threatened the Panthers defensive line with his fancy footwork, but was unable to do further damage to the scoreboard, however was proud of the efforts of his team-mates despite the tough defeat.
“In that first-half we were really good in defence, we scrambled for everything but in the second-half there were a few errors,” he said.
“It’s pretty hard to take that loss, but we’ll just move onto next year.”
After making his debut for the Sydney Roosters halfway through 2016, Manu impressed with his uncanny natural talent and nifty footwork.
He went onto play 16 first-grade games throughout 2017 - making a name for himself with some eye-catching displays against the Knights and Broncos, finishing the season with five tries and seven line breaks.
Despite his moments of sheer brilliance this year, Roosters coach Trent Robinson made the bold decision to give Manu more experience with the Roos but Robinson holds Manu in high regard as a future NRL star.
“He's come on as far as his attacking ability, good footwork, great attitude, but also very good skills," Robinson previously told stuff.co.nz ahead of Manu’s NRL debut.
“He has good footy intelligence when it comes to instinct for the game, how to move and what opportunities to take.
"He's improved a lot of his defensive areas for us over the last six months as well.”
Manu remained disappointed about the result but acknowledged the achievements of he and his teammates throughout this season before playing down a potential debut for New Zealand in the World Cup later next month.
“It’s been a big season, not just for me but the cup side as-well. To see all those players grow over the year it was pretty special.
“It was a great season for the boys but we couldn’t get the prize in the end but its all good.
“Probably not,” he laughed when asked about World Cup selection.
“I’ll probably be at home with my family.”
While it was a heavily successful year for the strike centre in reserve grade and NRL respectively, Manu is looking forward to a big future in the NRL and hoping to cement a first-grade spot with the Roosters in 2018.
Although there are promising signs for Manu after a stellar season, the 21-year-old says he will remain focused and determined no matter what grade he plays, as long as he is playing the game he loves.
“I’m happy playing for Wyong - I’m happy wherever but as long as I’m playing rugby league,” he said.
“Mostly I want to be in that first-grade side so hopefully I can have a big off season and pre-season and we’ll be on for next year.”