Three-test loose forward Nasi Manu has completed a remarkable comeback from testicular cancer to be named in Tonga’s 31-man World Cup squad.
The 30-year-old was diagnosed with the illness in October last year, ruling him out of action for the entire 2018-19 Pro14 season with Italian club Benetton Treviso as he received chemotherapy treatment.
However, the former Highlanders co-captain, who helped lead the side to their maiden Super Rugby title in 2015, found out he was cancer-free in June.
He was subsequently named in Toutai Kefu’s 31-man Tonga side for the Pacific Nations Cup, and was named as captain for their tournament opener against Samoa in July.
Manu was a late omission from the match day team, though, as a pectoral injury robbed him of his first appearance for the ‘Ikale Tahi since last June.
He hasn’t featured for the national side since then, but his inclusion in the World Cup squad after a year without any game time is indicative of the influence and importance he has within Kefu’s side.
Manu is accompanied by a raft of experienced heads that will be travelling to Japan for rugby’s global showpiece event, including skipper Siale Piutau, Racing 92 prop Ben Tameifuna, ex-Wallaby Cooper Vuna, Newcastle Falcons star Sonatane Takulua, returning speedster Telusa Veainu and veteran playmaker Kurt Morath.
It’s that experience that Kefu will be calling upon as he eyes a quarter-final berth, something of which Tonga has never achieved before.
The former Wallabies No. 8, who was part of the 1999 World Cup-winning side, is pushing for a place in the last eight, even with tier one heavyweights England, Argentina and France, plus the USA, in their group, which has been labelled as the ‘Pool of Death’.
“I’m fixated on making the play-offs,” Kefu said.
“We need to win three games for that.
“We’re in a tough pool, there’s no doubt about it. We just need to get together and believe in what we’re doing and believe that we can make it. And I certainly think we can.”
Even with some sketchy results in the lead-up to the tournament, including losses to Samoa and Japan in the Pacific Nations Cup and a 29-19 defeat to Fiji at Eden Park on Saturday, Kefu has plenty of belief in his side.
“We’re confident in the way we’re going at the moment,” Kefu said.
“Even though we had a loss last week [29-19 against Fiji] there’s some really really good stuff that we did. And we’ve come a long way just in the two weeks we’ve had since the Pacific Nation Cup.”
Tonga kick-off their World Cup campaign against England at Sapporo on September 22.
Tonga World Cup squad:
Forwards: Siegfried Fisiihoi (Stade Francais), Vunipola Fifita (Brumbies), Latu Talakai (Eastwood), Paula Ngauamo (Agen), Sosefo Sakalia (Asia Pacific Dragons), Siua Maile (Shirley RFC)*, Siua Halanukonuka (Glasgow Warriors), Ma’afu Fia (Ospreys), Ben Tameifuna (Racing 92), Sam Lousi (Scarlets), Leva Fifita (Grenoble), Steve Mafi (Castres), Sione Kalamafoni (Leicester Tigers), Maama Vaipulu (Castres), Fotu Lokotui (Kagifa Samoa), Zane Kapeli (Bay of Plenty), Dan Faleafa (Coventry), Nasi Manu (Benetton Treviso).
Backs: Sonatane Takulua (Newcastle Falcons), Leon Fukofuka (Kagifa Samoa), Samisoni Fisilau (Auckland Marist), Kurt Morath (Doncaster Knights), James Faiva (El Salvador), Siale Piutau (Bristol), Malietoa Hingano (Stade Francais), Nafi Tuitavake (Northampton Saints), Atieli Pakalani (Eastwood), David Halaifonua (Coventry), Viliami Lolohea (Papatoetoe), Cooper Vuna (Bath), Telusa Veainu (Leicester Tigers).
* – denotes new cap
In other news:
Sign up to our mailing list for a weekly digest from the wide world of rugby.Sign Up Now