Michael Burgess is a sports writer for the Herald on Sunday.

League: The Beast's burden becomes too much

Manu Vatuvei is a fan favourite at the Warriors. Photo / Getty
Manu Vatuvei is a fan favourite at the Warriors. Photo / Getty

The Beast's burden seems to have become too much.

Manu Vatuvei was yesterday granted medical leave from the Warriors in the wake of the ongoing saga involving six players around the use of energy drinks and prescription drugs in Auckland last week.

It's a shock, as for more than a decade Vatuvei has shown incredible physical and mental resilience.

"The Beast" has consistently played through knocks and injuries that would have levelled other players, and is recognised, alongside Simon Mannering, as having the greatest
resistance to pain of anyone at the club.

Vatuvei has also endured considerable emotional knocks, especially in 2007 after a calamitous night at Parramatta, which he admitted earlier this year he took "one or two years" to get over. He tends to polarise fans and, despite being the club's record try scorer, has continually faced questions over his merits.

Vatuvei is also the symbol of the club. No one, not even Shaun Johnson, is more popular among fans. But now he faces an uncertain future, when his wellbeing becomes the priority.

"As we have said, our focus is on the welfare of the six players involved," said Warriors managing director Jim Doyle. "Following medical advice received, Manu is now on leave. We would ask that everyone respects his and his family's right to privacy at this time."

As the senior member among the "gang of six", Vatuvei was fingered as the ringleader but had been angrily responding to critics via his social media pages until yesterday.

The sanctions imposed on the Warriors players at club and international level might not be the end of the matter and the New Zealand Rugby League will meet in the coming weeks to discuss the international futures of wing Vatuvei, prop Ben Matulino and back-rower Bodene Thompson.

It's understood any further action from the national body will depend on circumstances, and whether what occurred last week was a one-off, isolated incident or part of a regular pattern of behaviour.

The NZRL will be consulting with the Warriors next week to gather more information before Kiwis coach Stephen Kearney and senior members of the organisation discuss the issue.

Ultimately it will be Kearney's decision but the NZRL will have a strong input. It's an important issue for the national body, especially after the Stilnox scandal at the 2013 World Cup, which was a contributing factor towards the Kiwis' flop in the final.

That led to Kearney's cultural revamp after his reappointment as coach, starting before the 2014 Anzac test in Sydney.

"We had a set of values - like the Kiwis have always had - but we weren't living them 100 per cent," Kearney told the Herald later that year. "We had to start living the values rather than just talking about them."

Amendments were made to the NZRL's players code of conduct.

"Regardless of who the player is, we have a protocol and it is important that we stick to our values and what we want to stand for as a team and those issue didn't fit what we are after," said Kearney.

"It is those painful lessons they will learn from and allow them to grow."

Last week, Eels and Kiwis playmaker Kieran Foran was granted a leave of absence from Parramatta after he overdosed on prescription medication, was hospitalised and has since reportedly headed overseas to a rehabilitation facility.

- NZ Herald

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