The Edinburgh Rugby-bound number eight, 26, made a timely return from injury last month to help his franchise reach the Super Rugby final, where they take on fellow New Zealand outfit Hurricanes in Wellington on Saturday.
It’s not about going over there and just cashing out. I want to try and become a better rugby player.
Injuries have hampered his progress in Dunedin, with knee and foot injuries wiping out the entire 2010 and 2013 Super Rugby campaigns respectively, but he has become an established leader at the Hurricanes.
Manu was forced from the field again in the Highlanders’ semi-final win over defending champions NSW Waratahs last week when his right eye closed up in the second half, but after coming through training there was no doubt over his participation despite the lingering issue of the muscle in an eye lid not working.
His focus this weekend may be on helping the Highlanders land their first Super Rugby title, but Manu believes the time is right for him to head for pastures new.
“For me, being here for eight years, I was just ready for a new challenge,” Manu told The Sport Review.
“With Edinburgh, I’ve played with a couple of the players in New Zealand. I know Ben Atiga quite well and he really talked about how Edinburgh’s a good opportunity.
“I’m excited to come and experience something different in northern hemisphere rugby. I’m almost 27 and hopefully I’ve still got a good few years left.
“It’s not about going over there and just cashing out, I want to go over there and try and become a better rugby player.
“It’s more for a new challenge. Me and my partner have talked about it, the chance to just travel the world and I still want to grow my rugby.”
With Edinburgh boasting a number of players to have graced New Zealand’s provincial clubs or come through Super Rugby, there will some familiar faces for Manu on his arrival at Edinburgh.
Down here I’m used a lot as a ball carrier. I’ll bring physicality across the park. I’m like most Islander loose forwards – a high work rate and big ball carrying.
Fellow forwards WP Nel, Anton Bresler and Ben Toolis are among his former opponents at Super Rugby level and he spent three seasons playing with centre Phil Burleigh at the Forsyth Barr Stadium.
While it was former All Black Ben Atiga – another Edinburgh centre – who got Manu on to the idea of moving to Scotland to try his hand in the northern hemisphere, he also sounded out other members of the Highlanders family while weighing up his options.
And he is excited about playing a part in Edinburgh’s future as they look to return to the PRO12 top six and force their way back into the European Champions Cup.
“I know Ben quite well,” Manu added.
“He was the one who got me to have a look. I messaged Phil Burleigh on Facebook and he spoke very highly of the city, and [former Edinburgh and Scotland utility back] Brendan Laney said he really loved it there.
“I didn’t really have too many offers, but it’s a great opportunity. The club is building and they’re only getting better.
“I’m really excited about joining Edinburgh and I want to offer as much as I can to the club.
“Down here I’m used a lot as a ball carrier. I’ll bring physicality across the park. I’m like most Islander loose forwards – a high work rate and big ball carrying.
“At the Highlanders, it’s a bid more width and high tempo, but watching the northern hemisphere it’s a bit more pick and go, more mauling, so my role will change – I can’t be hanging out in the wings if the forwards are picking and going.”
Edinburgh missed out on a title in May when they lost in the European Challenge Cup final to Gloucester at the Stoop, but Manu is no stranger to success.
From schoolboy titles from the sporting production line at Christchurch High School to a Junior World Championship with the Baby Blacks in 2009, a 19-year-old Manu played also played his part as the Crusaders stormed to the Super Rugby title that same year.
It’s not the big picture, it’s the little pictures. Every week it’s about going out and performing to our best.
Provincial rugby has also been kind to the Canterbury vice-captain, with his club winning six titles between 2008 and 2013, but he has not signed on for 2015 to allow him to take in pre-season at BT Murrayfield.
What could be his last outing in New Zealand will see him co-captain the Highlanders on Saturday looking for the perfect send off before securing his visa, packing his bags, and heading to the northern hemisphere with his partner Alice.
The Hurricanes are the favourites and have home advantage, while both franchises are going in search of their maiden Super Rugby title, but Manu insists that Highlanders head coach Jamie Joseph has a squad capable of winning their first title.
“I absolutely believe we’ve got a good group that can win this,” he said.
“It’s not the big picture, it’s the little pictures. Every week it’s about going out and performing to our best.
“Every team’s goal should be to win the competition. That’s what we’re going out to do and we’ll do our best.”
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