Vatuvei now a finals Warrior - Sports News - Fanatics - the world's biggest events

Vatuvei now a finals Warrior

By Steve Jancetic 17/09/2008 04:47:47 PM Comments (0)

Once an easy target for commentators and opposition kickers alike, giant New Zealand Warriors winger Manu Vatuvei is finally getting some of his own back.

Maligned for having hands like feet whenever it came to grasping onto a rugby league football, Vatuvei was the laughing stock of the NRL as he turned in one comical display after another.

It got particularly bad one cold night at Parramatta Stadium back in May last year, when he fumbled the ball on six occasions, three of which led directly to Eels tries in a runaway 30-6 Parramatta win.

It was a low point from which some thought the 112kg behemoth would never recover.

But recover he has, to not only be a mainstay of the upstart Warriors side threatening to continue their giant-killing run, but a strike player capable of causing real havoc in this year's finals series.

"He's been crumbling blokes lately, he's been really impressive," said Sydney Roosters coach Brad Fittler, the man entrusted to come up with a way of stopping the enigmatic flyer in Friday night's NRL semi-final at Mt Smart Stadium.

"Look at his record when he's played over there, it's outstanding, nearly a 100 per cent."

There were times when no game plan for facing the Warriors was complete without instructions to kick for Vatuvei's wing.

Kick it high, kick it low, just kick it often.

But according to Fittler, that's no longer then case.

"They really look to him to get them points and to get them going forward," Fittler said.

"The less times he runs the ball the better."

Melbourne were left wishing the Kiwi international saw less of the ball in last week's qualifying final loss to the Warriors at Olympic Park.

The Warriors made Vatuvei a focus in attack and reaped the rewards as he crossed for one try after being denied a four-pointer earlier in the game for what was a touch and go forward pass.

Warriors skipper Steve Price said the club never lost faith in Vatuvei's ability, and claimed the focus on his fumbling antics came down to the fact he was an easy target.

"If you actually look at the statistics from last year, everyone carries on about the mistakes Manu made last year, (North Queensland fullback) Matty Bowen actually made more mistakes last year but no-one said anything about that," Price said.

"He's an easy target, one because he lives over here and he's obviously not there to front up every week for the media ... and also because of his size and the position he plays.

"We've got so much faith and confidence in him, we wouldn't swap him for anybody.

"He's been doing it for us for a couple of years now - he had one game that wasn't his best game and we've all had those, but the media decided to make a big thing about it."

Fittler admitted he was still undecided as to who would mark up against Vatuvei, though it is likely Brent Grose will be edged out of the line-up in favour of Amos Roberts, who linked up with the side after staying behind in Sydney to be at the birth of his second child.

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