Returning cancer survivor Nasi Manu headlines Tonga’s 31-man squad for the upcoming Pacific Nations Cup.
The 31-year-old loose forward missed Benetton Treviso’s entire 2018-19 Pro14 season after being diagnosed with testicular cancer at the end of last year.
He has since made a miraculous recovery after undergoing chemotherapy treatment for the illness, and is poised to make his first appearance for the ‘Ikale Tahi since facing Fiji in Lautoka last June.
Manu, who co-captained the Highlanders to their maiden Super Rugby title with All Blacks fullback Ben Smith in 2015 before moving to Benetton via Edinburgh, said in March that he was still eyeing up a spot at this year’s World Cup despite his battle with testicular cancer at the time.
“I really feel like a new man now,” Manu told Rugby World magazine four months ago.
“I am happy to hurt. I’m training, doing cardio, and it feels good to get back to some normality. I think for a little bit, I took things for granted. Now I know how important it is I make the most of this opportunity.
“Going through cancer and chemo has been a great sort of awakening for what I really want and my rugby goals, my life goals. I sort of narrowed down what’s important to me.”
Manu had a medical check-up scheduled for last month, but by being named for the Pacific Nations Cup, it seems the path is clear for a potential World Cup call-up.
“It’s always been a dream to compete on the world stage, to play in a World Cup,” he told Rugby World.
“The dream is still alive to maybe achieve that this year.”
Manu is one of numerous talking points in Toutai Kefu’s first squad of the year.
He is joined by prop Toma Taufa, first-five James Faiva and midfielder Otumaka Mausia as the newcomers in the side.
All four individuals add plenty of firepower to this strong squad, with all 31 players plying their trade overseas.
Eight players are with Top 14 or Pro D2 clubs in France, a further eight are signed with Premiership or Championship sides in England, four are in the Global Rapid Rugby competition, three players – including Manu – play in the Pro14, three more are signed with provincial unions in New Zealand’s Mitre 10 Cup, while Lousi is the only Super Rugby player, and Faiva is with SilverStorm El Salvador in Spain’s Division de Honor.
Experienced halfback Sami Fisilau, former Sunwolves wing Viliame Lolohea and veteran outside back Afa Pakalani are the only non-professionals in the team, with the former two playing club rugby in Auckland, while the latter plays for Eastwood in the Shute Shield in Sydney.
Following that, they face Fiji at Eden Park in Auckland as part of the Pasifika Challenge II on August 31, while their final match before the World Cup is against the All Blacks at Waikato Stadium in Auckland on September 7.
The matches act as vital preparation for Tonga’s World Cup campaign, which kicks-off on September 22 against England in Sapporo.
Tonga Pacific Nations Cup squad 2019:
Paea Fa’anunu (Castres), Siegfried Fisi’ihoi (Stade Francais), Toma Taufa (Bayonne)*, Paul Ngauamo (Agen), Elvis Taione (Exeter Chiefs), Sefo Sakalia (Asia Pacific Dragons), Ma’afu Fia (Ospreys), Siua Halanukonuka (Glasgow Warriors), Ben Tameifuna (Racing 92), Leva Fifita (Grenoble), Onehunga Havili (Exeter Chiefs), Sam Lousi (Hurricanes)*, Steve Mafi (Castres), Zane Kapeli (Bay of Plenty), Fotu Lokotui (Kagifa Samoa), Nasi Manu (Benetton Treviso), Sione Vailanu (Saracens), Ma’ama Vaipulu (Castres).
Sami Fisilau (Auckland Marist), Leon Fukofuka (Kagifa Samoa), Tane Takulua (Newcastle Falcons), James Faiva (SilverStorm El Salvador)*, Latiume Fosita (Kagifa Samoa), Otumaka Mausia (Auckland)*, Siale Piutau (Bristol Bears), Nafi Tuitavake (Northampton Saints), Viliami Lolohea (Papatoetoe), Afa Pakalani (Eastwood), Cooper Vuna (Bath), Tevita Halaifonua (Coventry), Fetuli Paea (Tasman).
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