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Roosters star goes from master to apprentice

Martin Gabor -

Joseph Manu has spent the past couple of years mentoring Joseph-Aukuso Suaalii on what it takes to thrive in the NRL, but the roles have been reversed with the student now dishing out lessons before the pair head to rugby union in 2025.

Suaalii's decision to switch to the 15-man code dominated the headlines last year and led to speculation he might be released early from his Roosters contract, but that went away quickly with the young star enjoying a strong start to the season.

Manu's possible defection hasn't been officially confirmed; however, he has openly conceded he will be heading to Japan next year, with Toyota Verblitz the favourites to sign him on a two-year deal.

Joseph Manu has all but confirmed he will be joining Japanese rugby at the end of the year. Picture: David Becker

Joseph Manu has all but confirmed he will be joining Japanese rugby at the end of the year. (Image: David Becker)

"I'm not too sure yet. We're in the talks now but I'll be heading over next year and I'll see how I go from there," the 2022 Golden Boot winner said.

Manu will likely kill it over there – as long he gets enough ball – with the Kiwis fullback looking to challenge himself in a completely new environment.

It's why he's ramped up his chats with Suaalii who knows rugby inside out and owes Manu some advice given all the lessons he's learnt from him at the Tricolours.

"It was my own decision. But now that I've been making this decision I have had little chats with him and seen the way he's thinking," Manu explained.

"I chose this path myself – I wanted to go overseas and explore and live a bit of life with my family. Obviously, the challenge of playing rugby, too.

"I wasn't keen on going back to New Zealand and playing just yet. It's just experiencing things – that was the main thing – experiencing life and the new challenge of learning the game again.

"That's the best development for me starting rugby.

"Now that it's all happening, I've definitely had chats with him and he's been really good. Obviously, he's going back for a while there and I think he'll be great in rugby."

Joseph-Aukuso Suaalii has spent the past few years learning off Joseph Manu. Picture: Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images

Joseph-Aukuso Suaalii has spent the past few years learning off Joseph Manu. (Image: Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

It was initially reported that Manu was off to French rugby, but with that now off the table, the outside back could return to the NRL as early as 2026 given the Japanese season finishes in May, which would mean he'd only miss the opening few months.

He's indicated all along that he'd return to the Roosters if he does come back to rugby league, and the club has made no secret that they want him back.

The only question now is if that would also include a reunion with Suaalii, who could very well return to the NRL when his rugby deal expires.

"I'm not sure, I don't know what happens, I just ride every moment as it comes and just live in the moment," Manu said.

"But it would be cool to play next to him, hopefully down the line, hopefully at the Roosters. This club's given me a lot. I'm not too sure how everything will work out but, yeah, hopefully."

Roger Tuivasa-Sheck has made an impressive return to the NRL after a stint in rugby. Picture: Hannah Peters/Getty Images

Roger Tuivasa-Sheck has made an impressive return to the NRL after a stint in rugby. (Image: Hannah Peters/Getty Images)

While some outside backs have struggled in their second stint in the NRL after time in rugby, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck has shown signs that he's going to be just as dominant as the man who won the 2018 Dally M.

"He's always going to have that effect, he's just that player. I don't know why people say (he couldn't succeed again in NRL)," Manu said.

"He's a special player and you know what he's going to bring. He's going to have a big season and it's good to see him back in the game. I think this is where he shines in the NRL.

"He's been killing it and I'm looking forward to watching him all season."

Martin Gabor - NCA NewsWire

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