General Clash Of The Wingers - Battering Ram v Rapier

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NRL: Clash of the wingers - battering ram v rapier

By Steve Deane 5:30 AM Friday Aug 13, 2010

It may sound like something out of professional wrestling but there will be nothing contrived about the battle between Manu "The Beast" Vatuvei and Akuila "The Thriller" Uate at Mt Smart Stadium on Sunday.

Chance has so far kept them apart but on Sunday the two most dangerous strike wingers in the NRL will go head-to-head for the first time.

Warriors fans know all about Vatuvei, the hulking Tongan whose presence on the left wing coincides with a significantly higher winning percentage than when he is absent.

More than just a try scorer, Vatuvei is vital to the Warriors' yardage game. He starts their sets, gets them out of trouble. In the air he has transformed himself from a calamity in waiting to a soaring predator.

As talismanic as The Beast clearly is for the Warriors, Uate is just as important to the Knights. Maybe even more so. Uate is the NRL's top try scorer and leading linebreaker. He also ranks fifth in tackle breaks and 13th in total metres gained.

His coach, Rick Stone, rates the man dubbed The Thriller but more often simply referred to as Aku as the best ball runner in the competition.

"I reckon he is the most powerful. I don't know if he is purely the fastest," Stone says.

"But at 97kg-98kg, with his agility and speed, he is probably the best running package around. His tackle breaks and linebreaks stats show that."

Warriors fans may take issue with the first part of that assessment. In the power stakes, few rival the massive Vatuvei, who is 4cm taller and weighs 16kg more than Uate.

On the stats sheets there is not much between the pair. Both have averaged a try a game this season, although Uate has sustained that rate over six more games.

Vatuvei can't live with Uate's incredible linebreak and tackle break numbers, but he does produce close to four times as many offloads.

The numbers confirm what anyone with eyes already knows. They might play the same position and be deadly at what they do, but what they do is quite different.

Where Vatuvei is the battering ram, unstoppable close to the line and a supercharged forward coming out of his own end, Uate is a rapier.

Vatuvei bends the line, carries players with him and pops passes. Uate uses superior footwork to either cut straight through the line or outflank it. Once he is through, he is gone.

The Warriors found that out first hand when the teams met in Newcastle in round 14.

The Warriors won 32-24 but Uate did his utmost to turn the match in his side's favour, scoring a spectacular long range try, setting up another and running for a game-high 178m.

Uate played on the left wing in that match to accommodate teammate James McManus, handing Kevin Locke the unenviable task of marking him.

With former Warrior Cooper Vuna restored to the Knights' side, Uate is back on his preferred right side, setting up the bumper clash with Vatuvei.

"Man, he is so strong and quick and hard to stop," Vatuvei says. "He's really strong and he's got the speed to back it up, so it is a big task for me."

Vatuvei's plan is simple. He needs to get in Uate's face - and he needs plenty of help. "He's got good footwork so we've got to have a nice straight line when he carries the ball."

Uate was off limits to media this week. Apparently a man of few words, he must have used most of them up last week when it emerged the star of the world cup for his native Fiji wanted to switch his allegiance to Australia.

"It would be really hard [to forsake Fiji] but you've got to move on," Uate told an Australian newspaper. "It's for the future. For me and my family, especially in the future."

Unsurprisingly, the driver behind that switch appears to be an NSW administration that has watched its representative side lose five straight Origin series.

NSW Country attempted to select him for this year's trial but were told Uate was ineligible as he had played for Fiji in last year's Pacific Cup.

Needing to prove there are special circumstances to switch countries, Uate will apparently argue he was unaware playing for Fiji would make him ineligible to play for Australia.

Given his remarkable talent, the scrap is no real surprise.

Not long after arriving on Australia's Central Coast as a 15- year-old from the tiny Fijian village of Votua, he was identified as a star of the future.

An instant star for his local club - where he became known as the King of Woy Woy - he was quickly ushered into the Knights' system.

After spotting him playing against the Bulldogs in the Jersey Flegg Cup as an 18-year-old, Matthew Johns offered this assessment: "The kid, without trying to go over the top, has the potential to be an even better player than Lote Tuqiri."

With Uate needing just one more try to match Timana Tahu's single season Knights record of 21, that prediction looks to be on the money.

Stone, however, believes there is plenty more to come from this budding superstar.

"He is still a work in progress. He is far from a finished product, but he is leading the try scoring in a team that is not in the top eight and he has scored some tries that possibly other players in the NRL can't score. I'm not saying no one else in the NRL could have scored them, but there are only a select few. Manu would be one of those players possibly.

"He has been one of the crowd pleasers in New Zealand for a long time and obviously he has got some power and pace himself. But we are bringing a bloke over who is likely to match him in that department."

MANU 'THE BEAST' VATUVEI
* Age: 24
* Height: 1.89m
* Weight: 112kg
* NRL games: 108
* NRL tries: 72

2010 STATS
* Games: 14
* Tries: 14 (5th equal)
* Linebreaks: 12 (17th)
* Average metres: 121 (34th)
* Offloads: 27 (27th)
* Tackle breaks: 55 (50th)

AKUILA 'THE THRILLER' UATE
* Age: 22
* Birthplace: Fiji
* Height: 1.85m
* Weight: 96kg
* NRL games: 41
* NRL tries: 31

2010 STATS
* Games: 20
* Tries: 20 (1st)
* Linebreaks: 24 (1st)
* Average metres: 139.2 (13th)
* Offloads: 11 (136th)
* Tackle breaks: 110 (5th)

Source: https://www.nzherald.co.nz/warriors-league-team/news/article.cfm?c_id=360&objectid=10665634
 

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