Dancing With The Stars’ Manu Vatuvei’s biggest fear when it comes to the dance floor

Manu confesses some of his friends and family laughed when he told them he'd signed up for the show, but he's looking forward to getting outside of his comfort zone and surprising everyone.
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Almost a year ago, Warriors legend Manu Vatuvei was flying home from England with a painful ruptured Achilles. He’d been released early from his stint with rugby league team the Salford Red Devils and was uncertain about his future.

The Warriors’ top try scorer and dad-of-four had played league for 15 years, so when he found himself injured and working in construction in East Auckland instead – missing the adrenaline of live action and weighing the most he ever had – he turned to pro boxing.

With the support of his wife of nearly 10 years, Jenny, 33, and their daughters Makayla, 12, Savanah, eight, Eva, five, and three-year-old Aaliyah, Manu trained extensively and lost weight – then he smashed his boxing debut with a knock-out victory. “The Beast” was back!

Now the 33-year-old sports sensation – dubbed “the Beast” by commentators because of his fierce on-field play – has undertaken a new strenuous, physical challenge by signing up for Dancing with the Stars!

Manu and dance partner Loryn have some surprises in store for us.

Chatting with Woman’s Day at home in south-east Auckland between rehearsals for the Three show, the shy dad grins at the thought of his Warrior mates watching him dance in sequins, lycra and maybe even heels.

“I used to wear my sister’s heels when I was a kid, just mucking around in them,” he admits, bursting into laughter.

“I also wanted to be a hip-hop dancer and back at school, I thought I could breakdance. Some of my friends were really good and I’d just try to jump in there.”

The former NRL pro – who scored 152 tries in 226 games for the Warriors – says in all seriousness that he’s no stranger to a good dance beat. “I haven’t done anything like ballroom dancing, so this is something completely out of my comfort zone, but I’ve enjoyed it so far.”

The towering athlete confesses some family and friends laughed when he told them his latest venture.

“But they’re chuffed I’m doing it because they know it’s not something I once would’ve done. Hopefully, I’ll surprise everyone because they see me as this fearless guy who goes out on the field and scares people.”

The family man and his gorgeous girls (clockwise from left) Eva, Makayla, Savanah and Aaliyah.

But Manu admits he has his own fears when it comes to live TV – freezing up and forgetting the moves!

“I don’t want to embarrass myself,” tells Manu, who is learning from dance partner Loryn Reynolds, with the help of his sidekick, youngest daughter Aaliyah, who he takes to rehearsals.

Hoping the speed and agility from his league days will transition nicely on to the dance floor, Manu wants his daughters to see his gentler side on the show.

“I look at myself as a real tough guy, but with the girls around me, I’m pretty soft! They’re awesome and I love them because they all have different personalities. They keep me on my toes.”

His eldest Makayla – who Manu and Jenny welcomed when they were 20 – cringed when she was told her jokester dad had a spot on the TV show.

“Sometimes when I go out, I try to embarrass these guys by doing weird dances in front of a big crowd,” Manu smiles.

“The first time I showed the girls a video of my show routine, Makayla told me, ‘Dad, your bum is pointing out too much.’ Now she gives me tips.”

As well as making his family proud, Manu dived into the dancing opportunity to support the charity KidsCan.

“When I was first asked to be on the show, I said, ‘Nah, I can’t do that!'” he tells. “But then the producer put in a good pitch about it being for a good cause and something I’m very passionate about is giving back.”

Manu’s used to being in the frontline helping children through KidsCan, which the Warriors work alongside to give hungry school students breakfast, lunch and rain jackets.

“Seeing them smile makes you appreciate everything and I’m definitely grateful,” says the sporting powerhouse, who bought his parents their first home two years after joining the Warriors.

Along with Jenny, a qualified personal trainer, Manu understands poverty all too well. “My parents moved to Otara from Tonga in the ’70s with nothing to start a better life in New Zealand,” he recalls.

“Dad worked two to three jobs, at factories and the DB Bitters Breweries in Otahuhu. We were happy with what we got, but we struggled. You always look up to your parents because of the sacrifices they made for you. That’s what I’m trying to do for my kids.”

Give us a twirl, Dad! Aaliyah (left) and Eva are only too happy to put Manu through his paces.

Jenny, who met her hubby as a third former at high school, also endured hardship, she explains. “My mum was single and raised three of us, working a four-to-four job. As kids, we were pretty much forced to grow up. To give back to the families who can’t provide for their kids, and to know we were those kids, means a lot for us.”

The dedicated mum says she counts her blessings now, having had the opportunity to stay home with their girls thanks to Manu’s league success.

“With me missing out on being a child, being present for my own kids was important – mainly for myself,” she says. “I’m grateful because I know not many families can do that.”

Now, Jenny – who married her beau in South Auckland in 2010 – is most looking forward to watching Manu improve in his dancing ability over the weeks. “I’m also excited to see what he’s going to wear!” she laughs.

Manu, who has the biggest social media following out of the DWTS cast, wants to make the leading ladies in his life smile, as well as stay true to his long-standing title.

“I’ve always respected being called ‘the Beast’ because it represents a strong character who’ll never back down,” he concludes. “I feel like I have to live up to it.”

Daddy daycare

Manu may be a hard man on the field, but when it comes to DWTS rehearsals, there’s a little girl keeping him in line! The Warriors great tells, “I’m on daddy daycare during the week for my youngest girl Aaliyah, so I bring her with me. People in the studio are joking she’s my personal assistant because she answers my phone calls and comes with me to meetings.”

The dance-loving three-year-old even sneaks into her dad’s inbox while he’s mastering some tricky choreography. “She’ll get my phone and text people, and I have to tell them, ‘Oh, sorry, that was Aaliyah!'”

Manu answers 6 burning questions

Favourite game played:

It’ll always be my Warriors debut game. All the hard work I first put in to making it up there paid off.

Greatest advice given:

When I was going through a hard patch, I was told to think about the people closest to me. Now if I ever am, I think about my kids and family, and the hard work my parents have done. I don’t want to let them down.

Favourite place in the world:

I went to Portugal once, and the scenery and food was outstanding, so I’d love to go back there.

Favourite dancing music:

R&B and hip-hop. A bit of Chris Brown or Beyoncé!

Biggest threat on Dancing with the Stars:

They’re all a threat because the cast this year can move! There’s a bit of rivalry there with Glen Osborne, though. I just hope I don’t get knocked out before him because I won’t hear the end of it.

Most important things in life:

My family and myself because you have to look after yourself to be happy – everything flows on from there.

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