Warrior (noun) – a person who shows or has shown great vigour, courage.
You know, I’m not even sorry for using that title. It will be the most overused cliché in the media this week, as the league nation lauds Simon Mannering in the lead up to his 300th NRL game. But clichés are clichés for a reason – and there’s no denying Mannering’s claim to the title of ultimate Warrior.
Even with names like Campion, Jones, Wiki and Price, Mannering stands strong as the most influential player in the club’s history. If you’re a league fan, particularly in New Zealand, you’re aware of his contribution to the game and his ever-increasing list of achievements. (If you’re not, you’ll know by Friday night).
In the same way that fate befell that Richie McCaw was the first All Black to play 100 tests, it’s fitting that Mannering will be the first to play 300 games for the Warriors. And that the milestone falls on what’s likely to be the team’s last home game, in his last season, giving the Warriors faithful chance to show their appreciation of his achievement, as well as thank him for his years of service to the club.
He’s won Warriors Player of the Year five times – the first to win it twice, and the only player to win it two years in a row. Cynical Warriors fans could say that in the lean years of 2012 – 2017, he didn’t have much competition. But it’s more of a statement of his work ethic, the never-say-die attitude which has seen him held on a pedestal by everyone who knows him or his game.
Mannering is no-fuss, no-BS. He’s never had the slick fade, the trending Instagram account or mega endorsement. He doesn’t want them. All he’s wanted to do is show up and play footy with his mates. Be it in the centres or in the back row, Mannering has always done the job. During seasons when nothing else seemed certain, his consistency became a comfort.
He never worked to be the best on the team, he worked to be the best for the team. He never wanted to be captain, and definitely didn’t want all the responsibilities which came with that title, but he did it because it was what was best for the team. He’s never been comfortable with the media attention, but he showed up, loss after painful, inexplicable loss, and shouldered the burden. And when, more often than not, he led the tackle count and was head and shoulders the best on the park, it’s no wonder there’s very little hair remaining on his head – he had every right to pull it out in frustration.
He’s a player’s player, Mannering. He’s a ‘follow me’ guy, not ‘a listen to me’ guy. Players have always said Mannering’s work rate is the standard bearer, that they take inspiration and direction from him getting up and making yet another tackle. Many have said he’s the first player you’d pick in a side, the type of guy you want to play with. But this week, the biggest compliment to Simon will be the hard-earned praise from across the Tasman. Commentators have often said Mannering would be a credit to any NRL side. Warriors fans are just thankful his loyalty and passion for the club never saw that come to fruition.
In a video the club released earlier in the week, the man himself downplayed the milestone and celebrations. “I don’t know if I deserve it all,” he chuckled, bashful.
Simon, it’s going to make you deeply uncomfortable, but sit back and pay attention to all the accolades. You have given your all for this club, and for once, don’t be so goddamn humble. Accept the applause. You do deserve it. Your boots, and the massive hole in the defensive line, will be so hard to fill.
Here’s to the ultimate Warrior. If only they could make a mould.
Follow Heather on Twitter