Mate Ma’a Tonga coach pays tribute to retiring Manu

Sika Manu waves to fans after the side's narrow loss to England at the World Cup last year. Photo: Photosport

MATE Ma’a Tonga coach Kristian Woolf says retiring skipper Sika Manu has been a great servant to the game of rugby league and will leave a big gap in the national team.

The 31-year-old Manu has called time on his international career after leading the Kingdom in their first ever test match against world champions Australia earlier this month.

Manu captained Tonga during their run to the World Cup semi finals last year and also won the 2008 tournament with New Zealand.

Kristian Woolf admitted he was initially surprised by Manu’s decision to end his test career and said he was still one of their best and most influential players.

“In hindsight I can certainly understand where he’s coming from,” he said.

“He’s been a terrific servant of rugby league in general but certainly of Tongan Rugby League and he’s made a lot of sacrifices for a long time.

“He’s a bloke who’s always put his hand up, no matter where you’re playing or who you’re playing, or who he’s playing with, to represent Tonga and he’s done that very very proudly.”

“You don’t always know what level guys that are based in England are playing at but he did nothing but impress through the World Cup and I’d say he was in our top four or five performers, besides the fact we had some really big performances and really big-name players around him,” reflected Woolf.

“He’s always found that little bit extra and that’s something you sometimes learn or grow to expect from guys like that.”

Kristian Woolf said long before Jason Taumalolo and Andrew Fifita inspired a wave of players to represent their Tongan heritage, Sika Manu pledged his allegiance to Mate Ma’a Tonga while.

“He was probably the first that was still eligible I think to be picked for New Zealand and probably still being considered for New Zealand to say that he’s going to play for Tonga while he’s still playing his best footy,” he said.

“That was back in 2013 and when I took over in 2014 I thought that was a really admirable sign of his intentions and him playing for the right reasons.”

“The first game that he was captain of was a game where we went and played PNG in Lae. It was a game a lot of other experienced players didn’t necessarily want to be a part of because it’s a difficult place to get to and to play and everything else,” Woolf recalled.

“Sika and a guy called Ukuma Ta’ai were two experienced guys that put their hand up and led from the front really and I guess really demonstrated what representing Tonga is about and did that through their actions so that’s the most important thing and that’s the most important reason why he’s been our leader since then.”

Kristian Woolf said there is no question Sika Manu will leave a gap in the Tongan team but said he was confident the likes of Jason Taumalolo and Will Hopoate can step up and take more of a leadership role in the team going forward.

“In the discussions with Sika, I know he wouldn’t have left if he didn’t think everything was in a good place with some real genuine leaders coming through,” he said.

“That was something that I think really helped his decision is he’s seen how much everything has grown and how much everything has come along and he felt comfortable that it was going to continue growing and continue going forward without his presence and without his leadership.”

Sika Manu will play one more season for English Super League club Hull FC before hanging up his boots for good at the end of 2019.