Manu Vatuvei is set to add more records to his glittering career after the Vodafone Warriors today confirmed a new two-year contract taking him through to the end of the 2015 NRL season.
In doing so he’ll extend his career to 12 consecutive seasons, a feat not achieved by any player so far in the club’s history.
The great Stacey Jones is the only other player who has previously played a total of 12 NRL seasons for the Vodafone Warriors but his career was interrupted by two years with Les Catalans in the English Super League in 2006 and 2007 and a season off in 2008 before he finished up with one final campaign at Mount Smart Stadium in 2009.
Vatuvei, who was off-contract at the end of this season, had been the subject of much speculation about his future, his manager Peter Brown fielding expressions of interest from other NRL clubs, English Super League clubs and also from rugby union.
His new deal was announced as he prepared for ‘The Capital Clash’, the Vodafone Warriors’ historic encounter with Canterbury-Bankstown at Westpac Stadium in Wellington on Saturday night (7.35pm kick-off; match day sponsor: Vodafone). It’s the first time the club has taken a home game outside Auckland since coming into existence.
“Having my contract sorted out is a big relief. Now I can concentrate totally on the Bulldogs in Wellington this weekend,” he said.
“My heart is always here at the Vodafone Warriors and always will be.
“It’s where I wanted to stay and so did my family so I couldn’t be happier it has worked out this way.
“I love this club, the players, coaches, staff and members and all they mean to me and to my family. They do so much for us.
“At this stage of my career, we looked at other options but remaining with the Vodafone Warriors was what we wanted. I’d like to thank not just Peter (Brown) but also Wayne (Scurrah), Dean (Bell) and Matt (Elliott) for making it possible for me to stay here. It’s where I belong.”
Making his debut as an 18-year-old in 2004, Vatuvei, still only 27, is now in his 10th NRL season, joining Jones, Awen Guttenbeil, Lance Hohaia and Jerome Ropati as the only other players to have reached the landmark for the Vodafone Warriors.
As delighted as Vatuvei is to remain a Vodafone Warrior until at least 2015, first-year head coach Matthew Elliott is positively ecstatic.
“Manu is a very rare gem, a true superstar not just in our game but in sport across the board in this part of the world,” he said.
“I haven’t been here long but I immediately became aware that, in Manu, we have not just a player but a person whose influence permeates through the club in every way imaginable. He has so many wonderful qualities when he’s playing, when he’s training, when he’s out in the community or just around the club.
“I always admired him from afar and that admiration has gone to another level since being here. He’s got so much more to give the Vodafone Warriors through his deeds as a player and in all facets of club life and I know he’ll keep giving, too.”
When Vatuvei’s last contract extension was announced in August 2010, he was sitting on 75 tries, just two behind Jones’ club record 77.
Since then he has surged past that mark, scoring another 30 tries in 46 games to take his tally to 105 in 156 games, one of the leading strike rates in the NRL.
After five try-less appearances as a rookie in 2004, Vatuvei quickly established himself as a genuine try-scoring weapon. Since being the club’s second highest scorer in 2005 (9) and 2006 (10), he has finished the last six seasons as the outright top scorer four times and in a share for the honour twice with 10 tries in 2007, 16 in 2008, 13 in 2009, 20 in 2010, 12 in 2011 and 12 last year. He has stayed ahead of his career average so far this season with three tries in four games.
He also has an impressive strike rate of 13 tries in his 20 Tests for the Kiwis.