Six months after being diagnosed with testicular cancer, the three-test international has undergone surgery and chemotherapy in a bid to reignite his stagnant rugby-playing career.
The former Highlanders co-captain, who helped steer the side to its maiden Super Rugby title in 2015, is now contracted to Pro14 side Benetton Treviso after a two-season stint with Edinburgh, although is yet to feature this season.
However, the 30-year-old is back in training, and is raring to play again with an eye firmly focused on representing Tonga at the World Cup.
“I’ve been for a couple of relaxed runs and I daydream about it,” Manu told Rugby World.
“It’ll definitely be emotional, just to be back out playing. But the first thing is being able to train with them fully. I can almost taste it – to run opposition, in training against the first-team guys, while the season is still there.”
Manu was diagnosed on the eve of of Benetton Treviso’s season-opening clash against Dragons after visiting the doctor following a period of feeling as if something wasn’t right.
“Once I found out I had cancer, it was never about getting back to the rugby field, it was about my life and being free to live and be a dad for my daughter and husband for my wife,” he said.
“But I really feel like a new man now. 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.
“Moving to Italy, I really enjoyed it and I did work hard. I felt like I was progressing and then I played on my first test tour with Tonga. I came back and then hit a speed bump,” he said.
“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.”
A full medical check-up beckons for Manu in June, and should he emerge from that without any issues, then he won’t need to see a specialist again until 2020.
The World Cup kicks off just three months after his check-up, and it looms as a motivating driver in Manu’s recovery.
“It’s always been a dream to compete on the world stage, to play in a World Cup,” he said.
“The dream is still alive to maybe achieve that this year.
“My first goal is to be available this season for Benetton … Then the dream is to make the World Cup squad.”
Rugby World Cup City Guides – Oita:
Sign up to our mailing list here and we’ll keep you up to the minute with weekly updates from the world of rugby.