The New Zealand Warriors have released their legendary wing Manu Vatuvei so that he can bolt to England for a stint with the Super League Salford Red Devils.
Vatuvei played 226 games for the Warriors and was contracted to the NRL team until the end of 2018. He also played 29 games of New Zealand representative rugby, so there is little doubt that the Warriors will miss him. He was the team’s leading try scorer with 152 four-pointers. Injuries have held him out for all but one game in the 2017 Telstra NRL Premiership competition and at 31 years of age, it would have been difficult for the Warriors to save a slot on the list for Vatuvei in 2018. England could well be his farewell tour.
Vatuvei will make a final encore appearance this Friday when the Warriors play the Penrith Panthers. Then, it is a long plane flight to England. Both he and the club decided that the moment for an overseas assignment was opportune. He made his debut in 2004 and averaged almost 19 games per season.
He played just five games in his debut year, debuting against the South Sydney Rabbitohs in Round 11. Vatuvei scored his first try in 2005 in Round 4 against those same Rabbitohs.
Warriors supporters will doubtless recall his returning from a broken leg in Round 7 against the Gold Coast Titans. He returned from that injury to score a try hatrick in the final game of the season. That victory over the Parramatta Eels to sneak the Warriors into the 2008 finals as the eighth seed. Although they eventually lost the preliminary finals to the Manly Sea Eagles, Vatuvei attracted sufficient notice to warrant selection to the New Zealand squad for the 2008 World Cup.
For his time with the Warriors, Vatuvei has a 2011 premiership runners-up finish. He joins a Red Devils squad that has six championships, but none since 1976, so perhaps Vatuvei can restore their glory.