Hansen’s done Joey Manu no favours comparing him to SBW. He’ll be more like RTS – and Foz is the reason why


I don’t really get the comparisons between Joey Manu and Sonny Bill Williams. I realise they have the Roosters in common, along with a pretty good offload, but I actually think Steve Hansen’s made a rod for Manu’s back there.

Hansen, the director of rugby at Manu’s next destination – Toyota Verblitz – likened Manu to Williams, in confirming the former’s signing last week.

I’m old enough to have been around when Williams first came to rugby in New Zealand. He’d been at Toulon, after famously walking out on the Bulldogs, and Canterbury’s signing of him for provincial duty was a bit of a coup.

Well, sort of. Williams had been told by Wayne Smith that Canterbury was the best place for him, so off he went.

Joseph Manu of the Roosters. (Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images)

His arrival was shrouded in mystery, with a bout in the boxing ring complicating things and then some unscheduled knee surgery.

We knew he was coming to Christchurch, but not exactly when. I got a tip that Williams was in a cafe with his manager, the Canterbury and Crusaders chief executive and, I think, Todd Blackadder from memory.
A photographer was dispatched, but came back without photos.

He said he’d seen the group, but didn’t know which one of them Williams was, so didn’t take a pic. I’m still struggling to work out which rock that particular photographer had been living under.

I eventually met Williams the next day, who greeted me with “are you always this grumpy, cuz?’’
The reply from the Canterbury media manager confirmed that I was indeed always that grumpy.

Williams was a unique athlete who developed into a reasonable rugby player. His peak was probably 2012, when he played under Smith and Dave Rennie at the Chiefs.

He disappeared to the Roosters, via Japan, and was never as good at rugby again.

As much as I admire Manu as a rugby league player, I don’t see him even being the rugby player that Williams was. Few converts are. If I see a more direct comparison for Manu, it’s with Roger Tuivasa-Sheck.

I think Manu will get tried in a few spots and end up at 12, like Williams and Tuivasa-Sheck did.

Maybe 13, with an instruction just to carry and not worry about passing too much – and definitely not kicking.
But I don’t think he can make a successful transition to wing or fullback and will only become a middling midfield back.

I’ll be delighted to get proved wrong, but I suspect one of the impediments will be Toyota.

Williams had Smith in his ear all the time. Guys like Daryl Gibson and Tabai Matson helped develop his rugby brain. He had Daniel Carter playing inside him and smart alecs like Andy Ellis giving him good-natured stick anytime he made a hash of things.

Brad Thorn, who’d taken a long time to adapt to rugby after the Broncos, was there too.

When the earthquakes came, Williams had Smith waiting in Hamilton to take his game to the next level.

Manu will inherit Ian Foster when he gets to Toyota and I just don’t think he’ll get the same tutelage that Williams did.

It’s really hard to go from rugby league to rugby and, while elements are the same, Tuivasa-Sheck showed us that you can’t suddenly click your fingers and have the instinct for the 15-man game.

Roger Tuivasa-Sheck is tackled by Japan’s defence while representing the All Blacks. (Photo by Koki Nagahama/Getty Images)

If you’re half a second behind everyone else, you’re nowhere.

After 10 years out of rugby, Tuivasa-Sheck struggled. The fact he’s seamlessly slotted back into the Warriors proves how different the two games are.

I’m sure Manu will give himself every opportunity to succeed. Like Williams and Tuivasa-Sheck, he appears a good, professional athlete, with all the right off-the-field habits.

He has pace and strength, is a stout defender, possesses reasonable aerial skills and a degree of ball-playing ability. If there’s something that stands out most about Manu, it’s his stamina and workrate.

But rugby is a stop-start affair. The collision areas are keenly contested and what happens at the breakdown can have a marked effect on the outcome of matches.

You can’t just rise to your feet and play the ball.

I wish Manu well. I truly do. And, if I agree with Hansen on one thing, it’s that being out of the spotlight in Japan isn’t the worst outcome initially.

But Manu can’t hide there forever, if he is serious about rugby and not just marking time until James Tedesco retires.

It’s going to be an interesting journey, but one that I doubt will end with Manu having become an All Black of any particular note.

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