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NRL superstar Joseph Manu signs with Aaron Smith’s Toyota Verblitz

By Finn Morton
(Photo by Jason McCawley/Getty Images)

NRL superstar Joseph Manu will line up alongside Rugby World Cup winners Aaron Smith and Pieter-Steph du Toit next season after signing with Japanese club Toyota Verblitz.

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Manu, who broke the all-time NRL record for the most running metres in a single game with 373 last Thursday, brought an end to speculation about his playing future in a statement on Tuesday.

Earlier this year, the New Zealand Kiwis fullback was linked with a big-money move to French rugby but the Sydney Roosters have confirmed that Manu will be off to Japan at season’s end.

The 164-game Roosters veteran, who was crowned the world’s best male rugby league player after a sensational series of performances with the Kiwis in 2022, has signed for Japan’s 2024/25 campaign.

“I have cherished my time playing rugby league for the Roosters, so it’s been a tough decision to leave the club and NRL,” Manu said in a statement.

“I will always be grateful to wear the Roosters jersey and to everyone who has supported me and provided me with some incredible opportunities.

“While I’m excited to embrace the challenge if playing rugby in Japan, right now I am focused on finishing this year strongly and performing at my very best for the Roosters.”

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Manu, 27, joins fellow Sydney Roosters teammate Joseph-Aukuso Suaalii by committing to rugby union from next season. Suaalii has signed a lucrative multi-year deal with Rugby Australia.

Waratahs fullback Max Jorgensen also knocked back interest from the Tricolours by recommitting to Australian rugby, but the code has lost Wallaby Mark Nawaqanitawase to the NRL club from next season.

Sydney Roosters coach Trent Robinson said that while the Roosters are right behind Manu it will be “sad” to see the two-time premiership winner depart the club.

“Joey has been open about his desire to experience the challenge of living overseas with his young family, and of playing in a different environment,” coach Trent Robinson added.

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“While we are sad to see him go, we fully support him.

“Joey will always be a Rooster. He is very clear on what he wants to achieve this season and we look forward to sharing the year ahead.”

The New Zealand Herald’s Liam Napier recently reported that former All Blacks coach Ian Foster is set to take over at Toyota Verblitz as their head coach.

Rugby World Cup-winning coach Sir Steve Hansen has worked as the Director of Rugby at the Japan Rugby League One side.

Manu has also previously signalled an intent to play for the All Blacks, saying it would be “pretty cool” to represent New Zealand in Test rugby.

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