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Emirates Western Force front-rower Salesi Manu will make his ITM Cup debut for North Harbour on Sunday (26 August).
North Harbour will begin their campaign this weekend against 2010 and 2011 runners-up, Waikato, in Albany.
The WA prop was granted dispensation by the Australian Rugby Union to play in the New Zealand provincial competition.
Manu, who can play either side of the scrum, will join the likes of former Chiefs front-rower and North Harbour co-captain Ben Afeaki, and Auckland Blues backs Michael Hobbs, Francis Saili and Rudi Wulf.
The 21-year-old, who accumulated a total of eight caps in his first season of FxPro Super Rugby, says he’s keen to line up against some of New Zealand’s top scrummagers.
“The competition is not only high quality but it’s very condensed,” he said. “In one month we play seven games with a three and four day turnaround which is something I’ll have to get used to.
“I’m really excited to continue testing myself against some classy players. This is a strong competition and one that has a lot of excellent front-rowers.
“It’s been great being with Ben Afeaki and I’m sure there’s a lot for me to learn just from training and playing with him. The coaching staff have been very helpful and [former All Black prop] Greg Somerville’s the Scrum Coach and has given me some good advice.”
Manu joined the Emirates Western Force on an Extended Playing Squad contract for the 2012 season, making his FxPro Super Rugby debut off the bench against the Stormers in Week 10.
He earned his first run-on start at tighthead prop against the Brumbies in Week 16, holding down the starting role for the final three matches of the season opposing Wallabies loosehead Ben Alexander (Brumbies), and All Blacks front-rowers Tony Woodcock (Blues) and Ben Franks (Crusaders).
“I took a lot of confidence out of starting against those guys in the last few games” he said. “In saying that, it’s really important for me to front up in each match during the ITM Cup. Every prop’s different and if you want to be a good prop you’ve got to be able to adapt to different situations and adapt to the game. I’m still learning that but it’s good to have that confidence knowing I can compete against these guys.”
Emirates Western Force Forwards Coach Nick Stiles says the experience will hold in him good stead ahead of the 2013 FxPro Super Rugby season.
“Salesi’s one of the up-and-coming front-rowers in Australian rugby but he’s still young in front row terms and the experience he’ll gain by playing in competition like the ITM Cup will be endless,” he said.
“He developed so much through the second half of the season when he was given his opportunity in Super Rugby and this will accelerate his learning.
“He’ll come back significantly more experienced than he did 12 months ago when he started with us and we think we’ve got a very good blend of front row forwards and he’ll complement our squad and make competition for places very tough.”