Manu Vatuvei has achieved a lot in his decade-long NRL career at the Warriors. He’s been the RLIF Rookie and Winger of the Year, won the Tri-Nations and World Cup, and played in a Grand Final.
In just his third year, Jorge Taufua is racking up a similarly impressive CV. The last two years he’s been selected for City, he represented Tonga at the World Cup, and played in last season’s Grand Final loss to the Roosters.
Debuting in 2004, ‘The Beast’ as he is known, has become one of the NRL’s cult figures. Now 28, he has racked up 128 tries in 187 appearances making him the most prolific tryscorer in his club’s history. He is also fourth on the all-time appearance list behind Stacey Jones, Logan Swann and captain Simon Mannering. However you look at it, Vatuvei will go down as a legend in Auckland.
His Canberra-born opponent may be headed the same way for Manly with 39 tries in 59 games since debuting in 2012. In all-time statistics the duo is very close: Vatuvei has scored in 68% of games while Taufua has scored in 66%. This season Vatuvei has more tries (10 from 16 games), but Taufua has a better strikerate with nine tries in 10 games.
Vatuvei is averaging more run metres (119.4), more offloads (0.9) and fewer missed tackles (0.9) than his past two seasons but also fewer tackle breaks (2.2). Having become known for his bouts of butterfingers, it is telling that his 23 errors this season have already surpassed last season’s tally of 21.
Conversely, Taufua is averaging fewer run metres (124.5 v 137.1 last season), fewer tackle breaks (2.4 v 3.8), and fewer line breaks (0.8 v 1.4), but tipping the scales at 102kgs, the Wentworthville junior is still literally the biggest backline threat the Sea Eagles possess, something opponents know all too well.
Manly’s custodian, Brett Stewart, provided the final pass for Taufua’s try against St George Illawarra on Monday. From a play-the-ball on the tryline, it spun out to Kieran Foran, who linked with a deep-running Stewart, whose angled run, jink and pass at the defensive line created space for his winger. There was still work to do, but the clever three-quarter started his run on the twenty ensuring it was like a freight train through a fence as he crossed the line over the top of Jason Nightingale.
Vatuvei’s last try came from a well-rehearsed move also involving his side’s No.1 Sam Tomkins. Chad Townsend shifted the ball wide to create a four-on-three with Tomkins sweeping in as the extra man to deliver the final pass. This is a play Manly must be wary of as Vatuvei will rarely miss when presented with such opportunities.
They may be on opposite sides of the field but with the Warrior’s ad lib brand of football, who knows where ‘The Beast’ might show up? And if they do come face to face, it’s anyone’s guess as to who’ll come out on top.