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The giant winger that captured our hearts

Vodafone Warriors superstar Manu Vatuvei is leaving the club to take up a Super League contract with the Salford Red Devils. Savannah Tafau-Levy takes look back at some of “The Beast’s” ground-making moments.

Our club legend’s try-scoring abilities have never been in doubt. His giant frame and speed on the edge has always made for a lethal combination and in 226 games for the Vodafone Warriors, Vatuvei scored a club record 152 tries and averaged 131 metres per game. He is still the only player in NRL history to have scored 10 tries in 10 consecutive seasons.

On the international stage, the 31-year-old has made 28-test appearances for the Kiwis as well as one earlier this year for Tonga.

At the age of 16, Vatuvei was scouted into the Vodafone Warriors’ development squad after piling on the points at club level for the Otara Scorpions and Otahuhu Leopards. Vatuvei then made his first-grade debut against the South Sydney Rabbitohs in round 11 on May 23, 2004. From there, Vatuvei began to transform into the iconic Beast, terrorising would-be defenders.

In 2005, Vatuvei was selected to play for the Kiwis in the Tri Nations tournament which was his first international campaign. He scored twice when they beat the Wayne Bennett-coached Kangaroos 24-0 in the final at Elland Road in Leeds.

The following year, he was selected again for the Kiwis for the Tri Nations after scoring 10 tries in 18 NRL games for the Vodafone Warriors. This was the beginning of his 10 tries in 10 consecutive years streak.

Although Vatuvei broke his leg in 2008, he still had a fantastic year on the footy field, scoring 16 tries in 17 games, including a hat-trick against Parramatta to help the Vodafone Warriors make the finals. Unsurprisingly, the Rugby League International Federation named him as the International Winger of the Year before he added a World Cup final victory against Australia to his list of achievements.

As if that wasn’t impressive enough, The Beast only seemed to get better with age and in 2010 had yet another impressive campaign with 20 tries in 19 NRL games. That haul remains the most tries he ever scored in one season. That same year, he passed Stacey Jones’ club record of 77 tries. Vatuvei also made the NRL All Stars team, the Kiwis’ Four Nations squad and

was confirmed as the Vodafone Warriors’ Player of the Year at the end of the season.

In 2011, Vatuvei was instrumental as the Vodafone Warriors charged all the way to the NRL grand final. Although they fell short against Manly on the biggest stage, he still regards the try he scored in the 63rd minute as one of the most memorable of his career.

From 2011 to 2014, Vatuvei maintained his ability to sniff out the tryline with 12 tries in 19 games in 2011, 12 tries in 20 in 2012, 16 in 19 in 2013 and 17 in 23 in 2014.

His reputation as one of the NRL’s most popular players was also underlined in 2014 when he was voted the NRL’s “Favourite Son”.

Then, in 2015, he became the first player in NRL history to score 10 tries or more in 10 consecutive seasons after he crossed in the 34th minute of the Vodafone Warriors’ 25-21 loss to the Roosters in June. That same year, he became the third player to appear in 200 games for the Vodafone Warriors, making that appearance against the Wests Tigers.

Injuries marred Vatuvei’s last two years at the Vodafone Warriors, limiting him to just 15 games in 2016 and one in 2017.

But on Friday night, he will don a Vodafone Warriors jersey for the final time and run out with the No 5 on his back ahead of his side’s clash with Penrith. Vatuvei’s contract means he won’t actually play but the club sought a special dispensation from the NRL to name him in the team in an honorary capacity.