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Eels forward Manu Ma'u

Manu Ma'u arrived at Parramatta a young man with a reputation.

He grew up in the gang culture in Auckland's suburbs and spent almost a year in jail as an 18-year-old on assault charges stemming from gang violence.

But now he is preparing to leave the Eels as a respected senior player, a father to sons Melino and Levi, a Test footballer. And a man with a heavy heart.

"I love this club. They mean an awful lot to me," Ma'u told as the Eels prepare to face the Storm in Saturday night's elimination semi-final at AAMI Park.

"I just want to give my all, give everything I've got left for the team … every last drop until I leave."

Ma'u still has a reputation, by the way. Alongside Manly's Jorge Taufua he is probably the player no-one wants to run at.

He didn't intend to set himself up as one of the game's enforcers. But he did want to stop players in their tracks at the defensive line.

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"Everyone knew who I was coming from New Zealand and I was an ex-con. It was a reputation that everyone built themselves about me.

"I just added the physical side to it more on the field."

Ma'u made his debut in round one of 2014 against the NZ Warriors. His work rate in the second row and second-phase abilities earner him a Tonga Test jumper in 2015. He then was picked by the Kiwis for six Tests in 2016 before he returned to Tonga for the 2017 World Cup.

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 All the while he has played over 100 games for the Eels.

"I came here as a young man with a troubled past. And I leave an older, wiser man, a family man, and one proud to be an Eel," he said.

"I've learned a lot at this club. I've made terrific friends, whose company I've enjoyed so much.

"I'm definitely going to miss this place."

Ma'u, his partner and two sons, are off to Hull FC in Super League but he will never forget his past 12 months at the Eels as the side has gone from wooden spoon to semi-finals.

"We boys went away at the end of last season and had a really, hard look at ourselves," Ma'u said.

"We went away on a camp and we spoke about all this. We got to know each other more as we addressed the issues of why we came last.

"We spoke about the team we wanted to be this year. All the boys have worked so hard to get to this stage. We put into practice the type of team we wanted to be.

"We haven't come to the end of it yet."


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