Joseph Manu might be labelled the Tokoroa Tornado. Maybe the Tokoroa Express. Call him what you want, but the Kiwis clearly have a new cult hero, and the South Waikato forestry town couldn't be prouder.

An estimated 300 people made the two-and-a-half hour journey up SH1 to be at Mt Smart Stadium, with many wearing special T-shirts emblazoned with a Manu tribute for the occasion.

And what an occasion it was, for Manu and Tokoroa, with the-22 year-old centre outstanding in New Zealand's thrilling 26-24 win over the Kangaroos.

He fended off Latrell Mitchell for a try, set up Jordan Rapana to score with a brilliant flick pass and almost had another try assist, only for it to be controversially rubbed out by the video referee.

Advertisement

His battle with Mitchell was engrossing, and his Roosters teammate labelled him the best centre in the world after the match.

Hours after the final whistle, Manu was still struggling to take in everything, as he reflected on a debut experience for the ages.

"I remember standing in the tunnel waiting to go out," said Manu. "I looked around me and couldn't believe I had this black jumper on. It means a lot to myself but it means more to my family. To have them all there in the stands meant the world to me. Then the feeling in the haka, with all my brothers there, that was probably the best feeling I've had in a while."

It was past 11pm as Manu stood with friends and family from his home town, though most had disappeared into the night, either to continue celebrating or make the journey back south.

"Tokoroa's my home and they support anyone that makes it out of there," said Manu. "I've sort of made it, and it feels like they have made it. I was really proud. I grew up here, and I want kids from where I'm from to start looking to me and wanting the best out of themselves."

Manu was overwhelmed by the home town support, as they jumped on buses and cajoled rides to make the 200km journey north.

"It looked like 200 out there," said Manu. "There were heaps. Some of them caught the bus up and they came up in different ways but it's a real family community. Everyone's family there ... they support anyone that goes good in Tokoroa and I'm happy to support them."

Joseph Manu had his own fan club.
Joseph Manu had his own fan club.

Along with the rest of the Kiwis right edge, Manu had a shaky start, as Mitchell caused havoc in the first 10 minutes, three times finding open pasture. But Manu then settled into his work and had slightly shaded his opposite by the final whistle.

Advertisement

"We are both really competitive and want the best out of each other," said Manu. "Every day at training, we challenge each other. He gets one over me, I get one over him."

Manu's 34th-minute try was a turning point, as he forced his way over despite the presence of multiple defenders.

"It wasn't the best ball but I thought I had a little bit of room and tried to take Latrell on the outside. Luckily enough, I caught him off guard and got a fend on him. I was just happy to get over the line. My family was right there ... I scored the try, looked up into the stands and saw them all going crazy. They were having more fun than me. They were all loving it."

Moments later, his clever chip looked to have created a try for Dallin Watene-Zelezniak, only for the bunker to find a knock-on by Manu earlier in the play.

"I didn't think I did but that was the call. In the moment, I thought it was pretty good. I just had it."

But Manu had the final say, with an audacious play to set up Rapana's 67th-minute try, with sleight of hand and a one-handed inside pass to beat Mitchell.

"It was a bit of instinct with that ... but Jordan did real well to finish that off. I was sort of going out and so to cut in was pretty good from him."