Benetton back-row Nasi Manu is raring to get back into the action after undergoing surgery and a course of chemotherapy to treat testicular cancer
Having gone through the shock of a testicular cancer diagnosis and the anguish of chemotherapy, Nasi Manu considers what it will be like to finally run out for Benetton Treviso again this season.
“I’ve been for a couple of relaxed runs and I daydream about it,” the back-rower tells Rugby World, a few weeks after getting the go-ahead to start training again.
“It’ll definitely be emotional, just to be back out playing. But the first thing is being able to train with them fully. I can almost taste it – to run opposition, in training against the first-team guys, while the season is still there.
“I’m trying not to get emotional about it now, because it’s becoming more and more of a reality to do what I love again. Soon.”
On the eve of Benetton’s first match of this Guinness Pro14 season, after a few weeks of thinking something wasn’t right, Manu finally headed to the doctor to get his left testicle checked out. After being sent to the oncology department in Treviso for some tests, the Tonga international was told he would need to come back again the next day.
His name fell off the team-sheet as he headed back to hospital on the Friday. After more tests and three doctors talking over him in Italian, the picture became clear when the physician told Manu: “It’s okay, I’ve seen people come back from this. Like Lance Armstrong.”
The breakaway was reeling, unable to process the emotions, the fear, until he took some time to himself. Yet just a few hours later he was on the operating table. The speed at which everything happened, he says, was the best thing for him.
Aside from chemotherapy, Manu believes that the three days after his op, waiting for another scan to see if the cancer had spread, were the most torturous. But looking back he feels his time hooked up to drips and waiting for the worst, has helped him to find a positive place now. And that can only benefit his rugby future.
“Once I found out I had cancer, it was never about getting back to the rugby field, it was about my life and being free to live and be a dad for my daughter and husband for my wife,” he says.
“But I really feel like a new man now. I am happy to hurt. I’m training, doing cardio, and it feels good to get back to some normality. I think for a little bit, I took things for granted. Now I know how important it is I make the most of this opportunity.
“I think when I went to Edinburgh and at the end of my time in New Zealand, I definitely could have put a lot more effort into it.
“Moving to Italy, I really enjoyed it and I did work hard. I felt like I was progressing and then I played on my first Test tour with Tonga. I came back and then hit a speed bump.
“Going through cancer and chemo has been a great sort of awakening for what I really want and my rugby goals, my life goals. I sort of narrowed down what’s important to me.”
Manu has nothing but appreciation for the way his club have supported him through this hellish time. And he has enjoyed seeing the hard work that has meant Benetton are flying high in the Pro14.
Sitting second in Conference B, with ten league wins to their name, there is a real buzz about the Italian outfit. Manu believes that this is a product of superb logistical support off the field and a positive approach from coach Kieran Crowley and his staff. The former Highlanders captain sees a marriage of passion and accuracy in Benetton’s play.
The next step for Manu, medically, is to get a full check-up in June and then, if all goes to plan, he won’t need to see a specialist again until 2020.
On the field he says the most pressing mission is to “get the body back in fighting shape”. However, when talking about the coming months he mentions competing for Tonga again.
Is playing in the Rugby World Cup a goal of his?
“That’s always been a dream to compete on the world stage, to play in a World Cup,” says Manu, who has three caps. “The dream is still alive to maybe achieve that this year. I’ve still got a lot of work.
“My first goal is to be available this season for Benetton. I know they’ll make sure I go along the right tracks, so that’s my initial goal. Then the dream is to make the World Cup squad.”
Treviso feels like the perfect place to nurture such a comeback. Just to be back out on the field is a success for Manu. Then again, who would write off a trip to Japan in September.
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