Odell Manuel, the biggest winger in the National Rugby League (NRL), has walked out of the Canberra Raiders and is heading home to Auckland to try to work his way back into the New Zealand Warriors. Manuel, 24, said he realised the day he landed in Canberra before the 2001 season that he had done the wrong thing in deserting the Warriors when they were in disarray.
In hindsight, he felt he had been caught up in bad blood between the Warriors management and his agent Simon Burgess, who also advised Joe Vagana and others to leave.
"My family didn't like it here from day one and if you're not happy off the field it's hard to play your best football on it," he said. He had a bad start with Canberra when a broken finger, then a hamstring problem, kept him out of action for about half a season. He produced some good form in the latter stages of 2001 but this season he has had only three premiership games.
Manuel said he could accept not getting a walk-up start but when others chosen ahead of him were injured and coach Matthew Elliot shifted players out of position rather than give him a chance, the writing was on the wall. "I wanted to come home to my family anyway.
"I asked the Raiders about a release on Wednesday and it's a done deal, they've paid me out. Now I want to concentrate on getting back with the boys. I'll beg the Warriors for a chance if I have to."
He has approached the Otahuhu club about playing in the domestic Bartercard Cup competition as a first step towards turning out for the Warriors.
At 105kg Manuel is heavier than any wing in the NRL, and at 1.86m only Brisbane's Lote Tuqiri is taller. With 58 NRL games behind him, Manuel will attract some interest in Auckland, but an immediate contract with the Warriors, who are well served in the wing department, is unlikely.