Joseph Manu compared to Sonny Bill Williams by Sir Steve Hansen

Publish Date
Wednesday, 17 April 2024, 3:28PM

By Will Toogood

The All Blacks’ most successful coach has thrown his support behind future dual-code star Joseph Manu, comparing his upcoming switch to rugby union to that of Sonny Bill Williams.

Manu will link up with another former All Blacks coach, Ian Foster, as well as World Cup winners Aaron Smith and South Africa’s Pieter-Steph du Toit at Toyota Verblitz in Japan Rugby League One for the 2024-25 season.

The Kiwis international has been linked with a switch from the NRL to rugby union for some months, with speculation he would make the trip north to France until the deal with Verblitz was announced on Tuesday.

Two-time World Cup-winning coach Sir Steve Hansen “couldn’t say yes quick enough” upon hearing of Manu’s desire to switch codes.

Hansen, who is a director at Toyota Verblitz, told the Sydney Morning Herald he sees no reason Manu couldn’t find the same success as Williams did in switching from the 13-man to the 15-man game.

“It’s no different to what we did with Sonny. Joey and Sonny are excellent athletes, and there’s no reason he can’t be a similar success.

“The best thing about Joey is he’s doing this for the right reasons. He wants to come to us to learn how to play the game.

“He’s so talented, there are no two ways about it. He seems to make the right decisions at the right time. He has a very good work ethic, and in all my dealings with him so far, he’s also a good character.

“We want him to achieve his goals, and along the way, he’ll help us achieve ours.”

Manu becomes the second Sydney Rooster to depart league for union. His teammate Joseph Suualii signed a reported $2 million-a-year deal with Australian Rugby last year and will also move on at the end of the current season.

While the two codes share many similarities, not all who attempt the switch find success and even fewer go on to achieve status among the greats.

NRL and Kiwis legend Benji Marshall is one of the more notable names to struggle in making the switch from league to union - his stint at the Blues in Super Rugby lasting six matches, of which he started just one.

Greats of both codes are rare, Brad Thorn being one exception as he traversed from a glittering career in the NRL to achieve arguably loftier status in union - claiming two Grand Slam titles and lifting the World Cup with the All Blacks.

Sonny Bill Williams stands tallest, though, so for Hansen to compare Manu to him shows great faith in the 27-year-old.

Williams’ premierships in the NRL and World Cups in rugby coupled with a successful heavyweight boxing career make him the poster boy for success in a multi-code career.

As far as potential positions go, Hansen again backs Manu to have the talent to slot into a number of spots in a union backline.

“I like the fact he wants to come here away from the spotlight a wee bit,” Hansen said.

“He can work on the stuff he needs to work on and he can grow himself and his game without the constant scrutiny of being in [the] New Zealand or the Australian market.

“He’s already played fullback in the NRL, has the speed and talent to play on the wing, and can also play in the centres. He’ll tell us by his performances at training.”

It is understood the Roosters were prepared to offer Manu upwards of $850,000 to retain the services of their star, but he opted to take less money for a chance to ply his trade in Japan with Foster, Hansen and the rest of the star-studded Toyota Verblitz.

This article was first published on and is republished here with permission

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