At just 23, Tokoroa product Joseph Manu had two NRL premierships and eight New Zealand Test appearances under his belt. In the two seasons since he has solidified his standing as one of rugby league’s biggest backline stars.
Sydney Roosters spotted the strapping three-quarter’s potential early and he scored 34 tries in 48 under-20s games for the club from 2014-16, while also representing the Junior Kiwis in a 22-20 loss to the star-studded Junior Kangaroos in 2015.
Manu earned his NRL spurs a week before his 20th birthday, making three top-grade appearances in 2016. He forged a regular spot in the Roosters’ backline with 16 games the following season before firmly underlining his game-breaking ability in a breakout 2018 campaign.
Though he had frequently been used on the wing, Manu made the right centre spot his own and scored a try as one of the Roosters’ stars in their 21-6 grand final victory over Melbourne Storm.
The tall, athletic youngster was even more impressive on Kiwis debut two weeks later, comprehensively outplaying his opposing centre, clubmate Latrell Mitchell, in a 26-24 victory over the Kangaroos in Auckland. Manu powered over for a first-half try and produced a brilliant offload to send Jordan Rapana in after the break. He went on to play all three Tests on New Zealand’s tour of England.
Manu was virtually an automatic pick for the Kiwis’ 2019 Representative Round showdown with Mate Ma’a Tonga and made two line-breaks in another barnstorming international performance, including a dummy-half charge to score his side’s final try of a 34-14 win.
He featured prominently again as the Roosters became the first back-to-back premiers in 26 years courtesy of a gripping 14-8 grand final defeat of Canberra.
Australia kept Manu quiet as New Zealand went down 26-4 in Wollongong but he was superb throughout the 2-0 series win against Great Britain, making a line-break in both Tests, running for a combined tally of 222 metres and scoring the opening try of the second encounter in Christchurch.
Manu scored a career-high nine tries from 21 games for the Roosters in 2020, occasionally filling in for superstar fullback James Tedesco.
Expanding his versatility by making appearances at centre, five-eighth, fullback and wing for the injury-ravaged Roosters in 2021, Manu made his 100th NRL appearance and scored a career-high 10 tries. One of the code’s hottest properties, he capped a stellar season with selection in the Kiwis’ wider squad for the World Cup.