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Sydney Roosters fans should be thanking Roger Tuivasa-Sheck for helping deliver Joey Manu to Bondi Junction.

Two of the nicest Kiwis you will ever meet were set to go head-to-head on Sunday afternoon at Allianz Stadium, completing the circle on a remarkable rugby league story, but RTS has succumbed to a hamstring injury and Manu is out after suffering a head knock.

Tuivasa-Sheck played on the wing when the Roosters won the premiership in 2013. He then joined the Warriors in 2016 then switched to Super Rugby in 2022. He went on to play three Tests for the All Blacks, then returned to the Warriors this year.

Tuivasa-Sheck, now 30, but somehow still looks 17, revealed on Monty Betham’s Once A Warrior podcast late last year how the Warriors had shown him clips of Manu, the way he was given a licence to roam in the centres, and how that was what they had in mind for him.

Tuivasa-Sheck liked what he saw. Maybe Warriors supporters should be sending Manu a little thanks for helping seal the deal with “RTS”.

Anyways, back to the story about Tuivasa-Sheck and how he put Manu on the Roosters’ radar.

You have to go back to 2011 in Auckland, where the New Zealand Rugby League National Secondary Schools Tournament was underway. Tuivasa-Sheck was the rugby star leading Otahuhu College, who went on to win the whole thing.

Manu who was only 15, three years younger than Tuivasa-Sheck – was a reserve for Tokoroa High School, a lowly bush team with his father, Nooroa, one of the assistant coaches.

According to Manu Junior and Senior, there were rugby league scouts everywhere that week, just to catch a glimpse of Tuivasa-Sheck. Manu had heard about Tuivasa-Sheck, but was blown away by what he actually witnessed in the flesh.

Nooroa recalled Tokoroa being shunted to one of the back fields, well out of sight, when a player went down injured. Joey got the call to warm up.

 

Joey Manu (far left) and the Tokoroa High School team of 2011 at the New Zealand Rugby League National Secondary Schools Tournament, that changed everything.

 

“We were playing against Southern Cross, Joe was a reserve, he was only 15, we had an injury, we tried to find him, and he was kicking the ball with one of the coach’s grandsons,” Nooroa recalls.

“So Joe dawdles over, we sub him in for a centre, he comes on, the game is tight, and the ball comes to him. We were all like, ‘Joe, just don’t drop the ball’. But he dummies, beats the centre, then steps the fullback and offloads. He did those three things, had one more run, then we brought him off. He was on for about eight minutes.

“Then a scout who was in town for Roger, Peter O’Sullivan, came up to us after that game and said, ‘We think he’s got a future’. We were like, ‘Joe? He doesn’t even play league, he plays rugby’. They told us they were keen to fly him over to Sydney for games, and we thought they were kidding.

“He was doing well in rugby. League was played on a Sunday where we lived, and Sundays were for church. We didn’t believe the Roosters until the contract was emailed. That’s when we realised they were serious.”

 

Joey Manu (back right) with Roger Tuivasa-Sheck (front right) in 2014. Also pictured is Jared Waerea-Hargreaves.

 

Manu told this masthead during the week that had it not been for the interest in Tuivasa-Sheck, maybe, just maybe, he would not have been given the chance to spend more than a decade at the Roosters, where he has won two premierships and become a fan favourite.

“I’m glad they all came over to watch him [Tuivasa-Sheck] because I ended up getting picked up, too,” Manu says. “I actually remember that game I played at that tournament. I was up against big Islander boys. I was scared as, and I was as skinny as.

“I also remember watching Roger. Even when we got home, he was all over the news. He was the man. I used to record the games and watch his step. It was crazy to watch.”

Manu would fly to Sydney on school holidays and at Christmas. In 2013, he played more than half a dozen games in the Roosters’ SG Ball side. Nooroa would drive more than two hours to Auckland in the early hours of Friday, sometimes a Thursday night, put his son on a plane to Sydney where he would train at Matraville that night, play Saturday, then fly home Sunday.

 

Joey Manu with parents Darnel and Nooroa in 2013.

 

In those early years, Manu played with Tuivasa-Sheck’s younger brother, Johnny. The pair, along with Latrell and Shaq Mitchell, as well as Angus Crichton, were part of the 2014 SG Ball side that took out the title.

“When I was in the under-20s, we’d train against Roger and the first team,” Manu says. “We’d get smashed. We were basically tackling bags for them.”

Two years later and Joey went on to make his NRL debut for the Roosters in 2016 – and the rest is history.

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