Joseph Manu: From Wyong Roo to New Zealand Hero

This may be another story that covers the tale of persistence and perseverance in professional sport but Joseph Manu is certainly not your everyday Rugby League player.

In what has been a stunning rise for the young New Zealand dynamo, Manu has evolved from being the Wyong Roos' best attacking ace into one of the game's most exciting young prospects – all within the mere space of 12 months. 

And such is his calm yet strong-willed approach to his craft that he used his omission from the Sydney Roosters finals campaign last year as his motivation – remarkably going on to play a crucial role in their historic premiership triumph this season. 

I'm just enjoying these last few weeks. [They] have probably been the best of my career so far.

Joseph Manu

But Manu had his sights firmly set long before the season even began – it was only moments after full-time of last year's Intrust Super Premiership Grand Final where he was determined to make 2018 a year to remember.  

"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," Manu said after the 2017 ISP decider.

Now fast track just over 12 months later, and a breakout season has been rewarded with not just a premiership ring, but a memorable Test debut for New Zealand on Saturday. 

But as they say, it's not solely about receiving a representative jersey, it's what you do with it, and Manu typified that exact cliché in more ways than one. 

He proved unstoppable in their 26-24 victory over Australia with a powerful try over Roosters team-mate Latrell Mitchell in the first-half, before emulating his efforts from the Preliminary Final with an incredible one-handed offload for Jordan Rapana to give New Zealand a rather unassailable lead. 

And the humble outside-back was left speechless after his starring role in the victory, which was made even all the more special with over 200 family members watching on in the stands of Mt Smart Stadium. 

"I still can't really believe it, I'm just really proud. I'm born and raised in New Zealand, I'm just a proud Kiwi and proud of the boys," Manu told nrl.com

"I've still got no words for it but I'm just enjoying these last few weeks. [They] have probably been the best of my career so far so I'm just enjoying everything and just want to get better."

Manu has always boasted attacking flair and an uncanny natural ability, and such is his unrivalled talent that fans rise in anticipation the moments the ball shifts right to his hands – much alike his Roosters team-mate Mitchell. 

The pair have formed a formidable centre combination this season but were turned rivals for the first time on Saturday in what was one of the most enthralling one-on-one battles of the year. 

Mitchell broke the line countless times in the opening stanza but Manu responded with some blistering efforts of his own – the win enough to claim bragging rights until they meet again in the international arena. 

"We're both really competitive and we just want to get the best out of each other. Every day at training we challenge each other and he gets one over me then I get one over him," Manu said.

"It was another good battle, it felt like we were at training again going at it."

Their embrace after the full-time siren was not only an image of relief for both players but a selfless acknowledgement that the duo have well and truly made their mark in the NRL. 

For Manu, in particular, 2018 has been a season he will be sure to never forget – another Rugby League star in the making, but one with limitless potential and the mental fortitude to go with it.