CARL Manu was not short of options when he left The Waratahs on the eve of the season after they signalled a drop to Divisional Rugby.
A game-breaking centre, Manu collected the Anderson Medal in 2017 awarded to the competition’s best and fairest player.
“The phone rang pretty hot for a couple of days,” Manu said.
The easy option would have been to follow Tahs teammate Dane Sherratt to Hamilton.
But a conversation he had with Maitland co-captain Chris Logan struck a chord.
“There were a few options,” the former Samoan representative said. “With Maitland, it was a different challenge. I just thought I could make a difference to the team. At Hamo, I didn’t think I would have added too much there. They were already very strong. I wanted to go to a team similar to Waratah where they were making the play-offs but not getting to the grand final.”
Logan played alongside Manu for the Newcastle Barbarians invitational side.
“Carl is a winner,” Logan said. “There is nothing else in his mind but winning football games. Also having that big name. The young blokes get to training and hang off every word he says.”
Manu, 35, had been a captain and coach during five seasons at the Tahs and has enjoyed having less on his shoulders at the Blacks.
“I still have a bit of a say on how I see things,” Manu said. “That was one of the things Chris said when he asked me to come up there; don’t be afraid to voice your opinion. I am a lot older than a lot of those guys, even the coach. The good thing about Maitland is that everyone is close. They are not down here in the mix of all the clubs where there is a bit of politics. The players there have what they have got. They have been great in welcoming me and my wife to the club. There is a real community feel.”
Manu won a premiership with the Tahs in 2013 after returning mid-season from Italy, where he had played professionally for seven years.
“In 2013 we had a lot of stars – Hayden Pedersen, Alain Miriallakis, Auvasa Faleali'i, Tim Riley, Pala Palupe. We didn’t train that much. We just had the right guys in the right positions and went out there and won.”
Maitland also boast a quality side led by Logan, Travis Brooke, Turi Uini and Josh McCormack but are at a different stage of their evolution.
“This team, they don’t really know how good they can be. A lot of the guys are young. Max Stafford said the other day that he hadn’t been in a grand final since under-12s. That showed against Merewether, the pressure of the games. Hamilton will do their homework and they know how to win. We have to be able to handle pressure and build pressure and things can fall our way.”
Saturday’s decider is not the only big event on Manu’s calendar.
His wife, Kandice is due to give birth to their first child, a daughter, on September 20.
“We have our bags packed, that’s the only plans we have made,” he said.