Real Life

Warrior star Manu Vatuvei’s dream wedding

Rugby League hardman Manu Vatuvei ties the knot with his high school sweetheart

As Auckland was drenched by torrential rain the night before their big day, rugby league star Manu Vatuvei and his soon-to-be bride Jennifer Ka had good reason to be nervous. With South Auckland’s lush Manurewa Botanical Gardens as their setting and no alternative indoor venue planned, the couple started to panic when forecasters predicted even more rain.

But as the morning of their big day dawned, their prayers were answered. The rain stopped, the sun came out and the only downpour to dampen the day came, unexpectedly, from the groom. Seeing Jennifer walking towards him in her chiffon gown, with their three-year-old daughter oakayla as fl ower girl, was too much for the league star, who openly wept.

“It was my dream to marry Jennifer. I’ve loved her for so long and I want to be with her forever. Thinking about that made me break down,” admits Manu (23), who fell for Jennifer at first sight when both were third-formers at Auckland’s Hillary College and proposed at Christmas 2007.

In fact, he’d been holding back tears all morning and had to hide it from his three groomsmen. “I woke up feeling extremely emotional,” he explains. “The boys were asleep and I didn’t want them to see, so I got under the blankets and had a little cry. “I felt like a sookie bubba,” laughs the strapping sportsman.

For Jennifer (24), seeing Manu looking so vulnerable as she came towards him in her bridal finery made her want to reach him more quickly so she could be there to comfort the big winger. “In our relationship he is the emotional one, and I’m the strong one,” she reveals.

“When I saw him standing there with his groomsmen, it occurred to me that this was the moment we had been waiting for all our lives. I couldn’t walk down that aisle fast enough! Seeing Manu cry made me feel like I had to be strong so I put on a smile, and made an effort to hold back my own tears.”

But once they had made their traditional Christian wedding vows and were united by their church pastor Scott Thornton, the tears disappeared. The couple exchanged gold wedding bands engraved with the numbers 2421 – a special code that means “Together Forever To Love one Another”.

More than 260 family and friends were there to witness the nuptials, including Manu’s former Warriors teammates Stacey Jones and Logan Swann, coach Ivan Cleary, and oanu’s mentor Ruben Wiki. It was fitting that best man oanu Laumea and maid of honour Verotia Tuarae were chosen to be the couple’s support crew, as they were the high-school friends who first set up Jennifer and Manu back in 1999.

As the pair were pronounced husband and wife, the grey clouds cleared – just in time for oanu to kiss his beautiful bride. “You can do better than that!” Pastor Scott jibed oanu, when the man nicknamed “The Beast” by his teammates gave his new wife a small peck. “once more with feeling!” So an embarrassed oanu proceeded to give Jennifer a more passionate smooch, but not without some restraint. “I was too shy to kiss in front of everyone. So I blocked it with my hands,” he laughs.

Despite the joy of having his teammates celebrating with him, oanu says he was saddened that one special friend couldn’t be there on his big day – best mate and Warriors team member Sonny Fai, who drowned earlier this year at Bethells Beach on Auckland’s west coast. Manu says Sonny was there in spirit.

“I prayed to Sonny before the wedding and I thanked him, and my grandparents who have passed away, for blessing us with a beautiful day,” he says with emotion. At the alcohol-free reception, held at a south Auckland recreation centre, guests dined on seafood, ham and pork. And there was a special treat in store too – a choreographed dance routine to Kool and the Gang’s disco hit Celebration, which the bridal party performed for all the guests.

With their perfect day behind them, oanu and Jennifer are looking forward to leaving for their Fijian honeymoon on Boxing Day. And as little Makayla jumps on her dad’s knee, Manu says he couldn’t be any happier. “This day makes us complete as a family. I feel truly blessed.”

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