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

Rugby League: Give me five - Manu Vatuvei

Manu Vatuvei remains almost unstoppable near the tryline even after 220 NRL games for the Warriors. Photo / Photosport
Manu Vatuvei remains almost unstoppable near the tryline even after 220 NRL games for the Warriors. Photo / Photosport

Manu Vatuvei wants to play in the NRL until 2020. The Warriors winger, who will line up for his 221st career game against the Titans today, was meant to be winding down, in the twilight of his career.

But the 30-year-old has an ambitious - some might say improbable - goal of extending his career well beyond his current contract, which finishes at the end of the 2017 season.

"I've always wanted to play as long as I can," Vatuvei said. "I love the sport and that's why I'm playing. All that other stuff that comes with it is tough, but you have to do what you love. Hopefully I have another five years in me ... but my body will tell me if I can go longer or not."

Already one of the most iconic names in Warriors history, Vatuvei cites the longevity of two other club legends.

"I know 35 is the limit," said Vatuvei. "That's what guys like Pricey [Steve Price] and Ruben [Wiki] got to. So hopefully I have five more years, but who knows? I'll do my best to enjoy what I have now and think about it later."

Vatuvei made his Warriors debut in 2004. Back then, John Key was an unknown MP, Sonny Bill Williams reached the grand final in his rookie season and the Titans were four years away from being launched. Simon Mannering and Thomas Leuluai are the only survivors from that era, although Stacey Jones and Jerry Seuseu are at the club in off-field roles.

"It's been a long time," said Vatuvei, "but I still love it. I don't want to do anything else."

You sense it's more than a game for Vatuvei. It's also an escape, which was why he returned to action only a few weeks after his mental health issues earlier this year.

"[Yes], it's a release," he said. "When you are stressed and have a lot of things on your mind, playing football takes all that way. It's something you want to do all the time. It makes you feel good about yourself."

And it's all Vatuvei has known, having been within the Warriors system his entire adult life.

"I've grown up here, after all the development squads. It's made me the person I am now. That's the scariest part, when you finish and you don't know how [life] is going to be after footy. That's something I'm not looking forward to but it is part of it."

Vatuvei has maintained high standards over a long period. He's been first-choice on the left flank for a decade and last year became the first NRL player to score at least 10 tries in 10 seasons. He's not without deficiencies and still polarises fans but until now the Warriors usually perform better with him on the field.

Playing beyond 2017 would be a challenge, but not out of the question. He's lost a yard of pace and been troubled by injuries in the past two seasons but, when fit, remains one of the most effective wingers in the sport, especially from close range.

And there have been other long-serving outside backs over the years, like Hazim El Masri (retired at 33), Lote Tuqiri (35), Adam MacDougall (36) and Matt Cooper (34).

- Herald on Sunday

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