‘A wonderful athlete’ – Sir Steve Hansen likens NRL star to Sonny Bill Williams ahead of union switch

Colin Newboult
All Blacks greats Sir Steve Hansen and Sonny Bill Williams alongside NRL star Joey Manu.

All Blacks greats Sir Steve Hansen and Sonny Bill Williams alongside NRL star Joey Manu.

Sir Steve Hansen insists that Joey Manu can be a “similar success” to Sonny Bill Williams after his transfer to rugby union was confirmed.

It was announced on Tuesday that the 27-year-old would be moving to Japan following the completion of the 2024 NRL season.

Manu has signed for Hansen’s Toyota Verblitz side and the director of rugby is looking forward to seeing how he goes.

‘The right reasons’

“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,” Hansen told the Sydney Morning Herald.

“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.”

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Manu is one of the biggest names in rugby league and was part of the Sydney Roosters’ NRL-winning teams in 2018 and 2019.

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

“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.”

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How it came about

Hansen also spoke to The Platform about the move, revealing that it was Manu and his agent who got in contact about switching codes.

With two former All Blacks coaches at the helm in Toyota – it was recently announced that Ian Foster would be joining the club – the NRL star has the opportunity to learn from some of the best in the game.

But it is the Rugby World Cup-winning boss who is “honoured” by Manu’s decision to choose Toyota as his destination.

“It’s awesome,” Hansen said. “To have a player like that get his agent to ring and say, ‘Look, would we be interested in him?’ is a great honour and privilege to know that he trusts us enough to be able to help him and guide him.

“That’s our responsibility now to make sure we do what’s right for him and the team, and I’m looking forward to working with him. He’s a wonderful athlete.”

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