You’ve worked hard, opportunities await you with a professional career, where do you go from here?
It’s not uncommon for sportspeople to question if they’re on the right path; or how long their sporting journey will be.
We take a look at the choices some of our players have made, and where they are now.
Pacific Rugby Players speaks to our Co-Founder and Chairman Deacon Manu.
Deacon has played professionally in New Zealand and Wales, captained Fiji in the 2011 Rugby World Cup, and is a co-founder and Chairman of Pacific Rugby Players.
He has accomplished a lot in his professional rugby career that spans more than 10 years, although if his enthusiasm for another sport had worked out, his career could have looked very different.
“I was a bit of a late bloomer, I didn’t really get into it until high school, in my second to last year, sixth form, at Francis Douglas College in New Plymouth.
“Golf was my first passion, funnily enough. But I realised I was the wrong body shape for it”.
He continued playing rugby with friends and into university. In 2001, he was selected to play for the Chiefs.
From amateur to professional rugby, Deacon Manu has seen the highs and lows of the industry.
“I’ve been fortunate enough to play professional rugby in New Zealand, the Chiefs for five years, Blues for one year, then overseas for eight years with the Scarlets in Wales.”
In 2014, after injuring his arm, Deacon decided it was time to look for a new challenge and “see what’s out there in the big bad world”.
He began coaching in Hong Kong, assisting the international team. During this time, he also took up full-time study and completed a teaching qualification through the University of Sunderland.
While it might sound challenging, the idea of studying full time while working, this was nothing new for Deacon.
“I’ve been fortunate during rugby, I studied that whole time. That’s important for me and it’s sort of one of the big drivers where I came from was just education and how powerful education is.”
While completing his teaching qualification, he realised this is what he wanted to do.
“I wanted to work with getting people to reach their potential. Which is similar to my current role as a chairman, getting people to the place where they can fulfil their potential.”
Education and “investing in yourself” are things that have always been important to him.
Deacon began his teaching career in Hong Kong and is currently teaching sports science at Dulwich College in Singapore. He said it has been “full on” as schools in both Singapore and Hong Kong are of high calibre and push for the highest results possible. He enjoys the challenge and says it can be similar to rugby.
“I always find teaching very similar to rugby seasons. You’ve sort of got a big push and maybe have an NPC campaign. Then you have a big break into the holidays and you’re back into Super Rugby. Then another break. It is non-stop but then you can see the end result coming through.”
He said one of the reasons he wanted to get Pacific Rugby Players going was because of a pattern he noticed with some of his teammates.
“When they finish rugby, they would basically fall off the cliff and have no money there. They might have spent all their money when they got home, and they weren’t able to do anything. They’d be working very very low paid jobs, you know, they’d be depressed.”
His advice to players is to keep some money aside for education.
“You need to be able to still provide once you finish rugby. It’s something that got instilled in me with my parents”.
Playing amateur rugby and professional rugby in New Zealand, Fiji, and overseas has given Deacon an insight into the challenges that some players are faced with.
“There’s a lot of talk around evening the playing field, in terms of just looking after the players, making sure, you know, they got reimbursed for expenses, when there’s really lots of inconsistencies.
Deacon said if he wasn’t involved, he would not have believed some of the stories about the treatment of some of the players.
He decided he wanted to create awareness and offer guidance so players could “compete and just focus on the game”.
He teamed up with Hale T-Pole and Josh Blackie.
Looking back, he said he doesn’t know how they pulled it off when they started with only $2000.
“We had some pretty lofty goals in those early days of getting some sponsorship. And it’s pretty meagre kind of sponsorship, but those little wins helped propel us and sort of keep us going through those tough times.”
Sponsorship wasn’t the only big challenge they faced. He laughed when he recalled the difficulty of communicating with the Unions and the World Rugby bodies in the beginning.
They thought we were just a bunch of rugby players.
Since then Pacific Rugby Players has had a lot of success stories and Deacon is proud of how far things have come.
“We’re having a real influence on some of the decisions that most franchises are making, sort of looking at us and asking for our opinion on a lot of things, which is really humbling.”
What is next for Deacon and the Pacific Rugby Players?
Deacon is working on his Masters at the moment, on the holistic well-being of Pacific Island Professional Rugby Players. In the long term, he would love to do his PHD.
He believes he is still well away from his goals for Pacific Rugby Players.
“I see a Tongan team, a Samoan team, a Fijian team, and they’re up against what they call a tier one team, and knowing that everything that’s been in place started on an even keel. Where everything is looked after off field, education, support structures in, and I know that will be even for both, you know, that will be the ultimate”.
Anything is possible, he said, the sky’s the limit.
“If you have that sort of mentality, I think you’re in a good place. Especially with the right people around.”
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Article written by:
Samantha Shields & Vanessa Leota