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Background Buzz – New Zealand Warriors Wing, Manu Vatuvei

Okay sports fans, on “Background Buzz” today, I take a closer look at a good news sports story from New Zealand, where jailed former New Zealand Warriors Wing, Manu Vatuvei will hopefully return to his old club in the player “wellbeing department” if he is released on parole.

The 37-year-old Tongan international was sentenced to three years and seven months imprisonment in March last year after he admitted his role in a drug ring.

Alongside his brother Lopini Mafi, who was sentenced to seven years and two months, the pair imported just over 2kg of methamphetamine in an “unsophisticated” operation.

Vatuvei played 226 games for the Warriors and 29 Tests.

But now Vatuvei is set to return to his New Zealand club according to Stuff.co.nz, following a hearing in front of the Parole Board on Wednesday.

All going well, Vatuvei will be released from prison on 31 May, with standard and special conditions in place until October 2025.

During his parole hearing, Vatuvei’s lawyer Vivienne Feyen said her client’s “losses left him with a life that was emptied of what he cherished”.

The Parole Board was also informed of the New Zealand Warriors’ plans to have Vatuvei mentor players coming through their Club ranks.

“He has an insight into the pressures from the media and the personal life struggles and pitfalls,” Feyen said.

New Zealand Warriors Chief Executive Officer, Cameron George also confirmed he would return to the Club, “Yes he’s done wrong and made mistakes, he’s paid for that. Our position now is being a part of his rehabilitation and hopefully his story can have a positive impact on some of our young aspiring athletes,” George said.

Vatuvei will once again face the Parole Board in November for a progress hearing, with conditions in place he must follow.

The former Wing must reside at a set address, not contact any gang members or his brother and not consume or possess drugs and alcohol.

This story cuts close to the heart for me – going way back to 1994, just two years after rugby league was established in Fiji, and Papua New Guinea – celebrating 40 years of the game being played there, invited the Fiji Bati to play them in Port Moresby.

After picking our Fiji squad and applying for Visas to transit through Brisbane airport to PNG, we were shocked when the application for two players were rejected.

We appealed directly to the Australian High Commissioner, Susan Boyd for help, only to be stunned and stumped by the revelations that one of the rejected applicants had 52 previous convictions starting with manslaughter and the other one had among other charges, a conviction for armed bank robbery!

Thankfully, we managed to fly them to Port Moresby through the Solomon Islands and to cut a long story short, having represented their country and shed tears standing shoulder to shoulder alongside their Fiji Bati brothers for the Fiji national anthem, both players came back reformed men, never committing another crime and playing many more Tests for Fiji at home and eventually in New Zealand and Australia.

And that’s a wrap!

For TeivovoSports.com I’m Culden Kamea – please hit the like and subscribe buttons below if you want to receive more Pasifika sports highlights on Breakfast Bites.

Mahalo, vina’a and tank you all too mass for all your love and support.

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