A year on since Cyclone Gita hit Tonga, the forward talks of those dark days and a brighter future in England
The Super League season is barely a month old and there is already talk of a crisis at Hull FC. The Black and Whites have lost their opening two games to extend a winless run dating back to last July: 13 consecutive defeats, to be precise. However, for some perspective on how sport can often mean nothing in comparison to the troubles of real life, look no further than Hull’s Sika Manu.
On Sunday, Manu should play an integral role in Hull’s attempt to secure a first victory when they travel to the champions, Wigan. Exactly one year ago this weekend, however, he was helping with an altogether different mission. “I just couldn’t believe it when I got there, and saw the damage,” Manu says when asked to recall his memories of his visit to Tonga after the devastation of Cyclone Gita, which tore through his parents’ homeland last February.
Manu was in Australia with Hull at the time of the cyclone, which was regarded as the most destructive to hit the island since records began. Lives were lost, thousands of homes were destroyed – and Manu was in no doubt about stepping away from his playing duties to help those in desperate need. “I decided straight away I’d be staying on, going to Tonga and letting the lads go home,” Manu says.
“I know some of my Tongan teammates had family there who were really impacted by it, and with the love I have for Tonga, I just had to get back there. It destroyed houses and schools; I remember seeing roofs torn off major buildings and it was a complete wreck.”
He had no hesitation about helping out when asked. “I stayed for three days to help with the rescue and the clean-up, and did what I needed to do for my nation,” he says. “Footy had to take a back seat. I remember wondering how it was going to all get sorted. But looking back now, everything is going the right way and things seem to be on the right track. It was a horrible time for the island.”
Manu was born in New Zealand and played 14 times for the Kiwis from 2008 to 2011 but switched to the island nation in time for the 2013 World Cup. Rugby league is on the rise in Tonga and Manu has helped play a pivotal role in their rise to become one of the best nations in the world. That progression – Manu captained Tonga to the semi-finals at the last World Cup in 2017 – will be recognised later this year when they face Great Britain as part of the Lions’ tour of the southern hemisphere. Beforehand, there is unfinished business in England for Manu.
An NRL winner with Melbourne Storm in 2012, he won consecutive Challenge Cups with Hull in 2016 and 2017 , so there is one major domestic trophy left for the 32-year-old to claim: a Super League title. The forward is the first to admit Hull’s form in the last six months suggests anything but a tilt at Old Trafford this season – but in what could be his final season as a professional, there is certainly no shortage of motivation to put that right.
“The goal was always to come here and win the Super League,” Manu says. “Of course everyone thinks they can do it but we think we’ve got a squad here that can achieve it this season. I want to be able to say I’ve won one on both sides of the world – and while the start hasn’t been great in terms of results, you’ve got to remember there’s a long way to go. A win at Wigan changes everyone’s perception of us.”
But will 2019 be Manu’s final chance to win the one prize that has eluded him? “I’m still undecided,” says the forward, who is out of contract at the end of this season. “It depends how the body feels. I didn’t think I’d be here for this long but the family love it here and I’ve still got something left to give. While there’s pressure on us now to win some games, I think you’ll see what Hull FC are all about once we get that first one and are up and running. After that? Who knows what we can do.”