Manu Vatuvei was in tears at the end of Friday night’s encounter with the West’s Tigers.
One week ago his seemingly stellar career had hit the skids as he put in a performance that had sunk him into the murky depths of despair. No matter how hard the big man tried, it all turned to custard. Dropped ball after dropped ball, one could not help but wonder when Coach, Ivan Cleary, was going to hook the Beast.
Cleary, though, maintained the faith and left his star player in the cauldron that is Suncorp Stadium to fend for himself.
And Vatuvei returned that faith in truck loads in this sudden death play-off.
It could have all gone so wrong. Vatuvei could have dropped his bundle after the loss to the Bronco’s, and let the weight of the world sit heavily on those broad shoulders of his, thus hindering his ability to perform even further.
After all, it wasn’t just any old game that he blew; it was an important excursion into finals football, which made matters even worse.
Sure, he wasn’t the only one to under-perform. But, it is always more noticeable when a team’s talisman has a meltdown of monumental proportions.
You see, Vatuvei is a superstar earning big coin.
*Big money...big man... big game player... big reputation.
It is a reputation that came about through deeds unequaled on a football paddock.
What comes with those past deeds though is the expectation that he will deliver each and every time. The pressure is more often than not unrelenting. On a weekly basis, Vatuvei is expected by many to score a couple of tries, run one hundred and fifty metres, not to mention diffuse an untold number of bombs. And that’s just in the first half.
Despite the unjustifiably high expectations of his fans, he does it all with a smile. Never mind that he is often unjustly maligned. He takes it all, and always with not so much as a moan to be heard.
So after the week from hell, no matter how tough things got for him, he found a way back.
The fall is more severe being the star that he is. There is often derision aimed in his direction. It’s usually from the uninformed, but, even so, Vatuvei never bites.
The criticism must surely hurt, but he shows remarkable resilience to fight back.You can mock him all you want, but he’s not one to sit in the corner sulking.Instead, he gets back on the horse and finds a way to get to the end destination.
And there he was at the Sydney Football Stadium; one week after what was close on total humiliation. Many would have cowered, but that is not the Vatuvei way. The test of a true champion is when one can come back from the bad and produce a top rate performance.
The Beast, he often likes a feast. Tries galore are regularly his standard fare. After all, it’s his job. And it is to be expected, too. He is on hundreds and thousands a year and a liberal sprinkling of tries is the least his coach, teammates and fans can expect of him.
But there was none of that.
He didn’t bust the line like a Locke and offload to James Maloney who ran twenty metres to score.
He didn’t dart out of dummy half like a Hohaia and score a crucial try.
He didn’t put Feleti Mateo over for a try with a sweetly timed pass like a Johnson.
And he didn’t score a match winning try with two minutes left to play like an Inu.
What he did do though was to continuously take the ball up from out of his own red zone. When there was some solid hard work to be done, more often than not he was first to volunteer his services to the overall team cause. There was not one error to be seen from him during the entire eighty minutes. Totally without ego, his only thought was of the team. And that is what a real star is. Not just one who does all the fancy stuff, but one who doesn’t mind getting down and dirty in the trenches where there is no obvious sign of glory.
That’s Manu Vatuvei for you though. He is a real man, not just a fancy Dan. Real men do whatever they can for their mates. They hang around when the going gets tough. They find a way to put the previous week’s aberration of a performance out of their mind, knowing that their side is counting on them to contribute. That is what Vatuvei did.
No matter how hard it was for him, he stood up when it really counted. And his was a performance, if the Warriors achieve grand final glory, that may well be looked on as one that helped propel his team to the summit of NRL achievement.
And there he was shortly after the fulltime whistle, bent down, in tears. The emotion was there for all to see. It had hurt, but he had proven what a champion he really is. Greatness really does become him.
For it is not just his tooth that is gold plated; indeed, he has a heart of gold, too.
And to think that they say real men don’t cry.
*Part of this line is from the 1957 movie"The road to Codura".