Michael Burgess is the football and rugby league writer for the Herald on Sunday.

Simon Mannering express is always on time

In the 50th minute of the Warriors' game against the Roosters two weeks ago, there was an urgent message radioed to the Warriors coaching box.

"Simon's gone, he's buggered," said the trainer on the field.

"Simon? He'll be fine - leave him on," was the reply.

If anybody gets around to writing a book about Simon Mannering one day, they'll be no shortage of anecdotes. Few will come from the man himself - who remains one of the most humble sportsmen New Zealand has seen - but everyone else in his circle has a story about the man from Motueka who has become a Warriors legend.

Mannering will today play his 250th game for the Warriors and he is in line to overtake Stacey Jones' club record of 261 NRL matches.

Want some more numbers? Try almost 8000 tackles and more than 22,000 running metres. He never stops, from tackle to tackle, set to set, game to game. He's like a freight train blasting through the night that always makes the destination, carries teammates with him and never shirks the hard work.

"He's No1 for me," says long-time teammate Ben Matulino. "I've always said it when people ask me 'who would be the first person you would pick'. Most people expect to hear Shaun [Johnson] or Johnathan Thurston but it would be Simon, every time."

Matulino has shared the dressing room with Mannering for almost a decade but is still surprised by the 29-year-old.

"I'll never forget last year against the Tigers," said Matulino. "The doctor ruled him out, he was that sick and didn't train all week. [But] I don't think they told him because he ended up getting changed and said 'nah, I'm playing, I'm playing'."

There are numerous versions of these stories but Warriors doctor John Mayhew stresses that Mannering is "not cavalier or reckless" but he has a ability to take the field in situations that would flatten others.

"He has a high pain threshold and a huge force of will," says Mayhew. "I'm not sure how he does it but it's pure resilience, like a Buck Shelford or a Richie McCaw. And it's not just playing, he plays well."

Since he became a first grade regular in 2006, Mannering has played 93 per cent of possible NRL games, despite being in one of the most demanding positions on the field.
Mayhew's most memorable story comes from a 2007 match against the Dragons.
Mannering had food poisoning all week, and the coaching staff had planned to replace him in the second half. But he played the full 80 minutes, after centre partner Jerome Ropati was injured, and scored two tries.

"After the game, he looked quite pale and also told me his hand was a 'bit sore'," said Mayhew. "It turned out it was broken. I've seen all kinds of things but that, from a young player, is hard to forget."

Nothing much has changed. Mannering broke his hand in the final pre-season trial this year against St George but simply strapped it up and played the first four rounds.

Blake Ayshford is a recent Warriors recruit but didn't take long to be impressed by his teammate.

"I don't think he gets enough credit - he saves a lot of our arses, a lot of the time," said Ayshford. "I'd played against him but when you train and play with him, you realise what he does, what he goes through. "Look at his lip injury [against Melbourne] when he tore half his lip off. I would have been sulking like a baby but he wanted to play on. Then he wanted to come back early when the muscles were not formed properly."

Mannering hasn't always been universally admired, especially during his long tenure as Warriors captain, as some fans didn't appreciate his no-frills style. But now it feels like the kudos are more universal, his value evident to all.

"Once I got to know him, he is definitely what everyone hypes him up to be, he exceeds that," said Warriors rookie Albert Vete. "He's a team man, a family man and he is always helping us young guys out. In my second game [against Canberra], he was on the ground at marker but chased Blake Austin all the way down the field. That always stuck with me."

Mannering has become the New Zealand version of Ray Price, the 1980s Australian lock who was known as Mr Perpetual Motion. Sometimes it feels like he could set all kinds of records. But don't ask him to talk about milestones.

"I've never been one for counting games," said Mannering. "I'd rather win something with this team than have some kind of personal achievement, it would feel pretty empty. Leaving something behind would be more important for me."

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