Steve Matai wrecked his body again for the ultimate rugby league prize then declared himself ready for more in the World Cup.
The Kiwis centre slumped in a quiet alcove of the ANZ Stadium dressing room last night, an ice pack on his neck and a premiership ring in his hand after Manly’s stunning 40-0 rout of defending premiers Melbourne.
A year earlier, Matai struck a similar pose contemplating an 8-34 hiding from Melbourne and a pending shoulder reconstruction.
“It hasn’t really sunk in yet. It just feels like we’ve finished a normal game, it doesn’t really feel like a grand final to me. The difference is you come off with a ring,” Matai told NZPA.
“I couldn’t really get into the festivities too much, my neck was pretty sore. It’s just a great feeling.”
The blockbusting centre who grew up playing for the Ponsonby club in Auckland epitomised Manly’s high-octane approach which stunned the Storm.
After three Melbourne play-the-balls it was Matai, three tackles; teammates, nil, as Storm players Billy Slater, Steve Turner and Michael Crocker all bit the dust.
There was more big defence, a try assist for wing Michael Robertson’s hat-trick and three goals for good measure after he took over kicking duties from captain Matt Orford.
Matai also made way for Manly hero Steve Menzies, albeit reluctantly, with 10 minutes left when he reeled way in pain after a collision. Two minutes later the crowd of 80,388 main Sea Eagles fans went crazy when Menzies dived over for a try in a memorable 349th and final NRL match.
“I didn’t really want to come off but the doctor pulled the reins and said I had to get it checked,” Matai said.
“I just love playing with the boys and love this game so much I wanted to play every minute.
“It was at my expense, but I’m glad he (Menzies) got the fairytale sendoff he deserved.”
The big question was, would Matai’s injuries allow him to be named in Stephen Kearney’s World Cup squad tomorrow?
Assuming he got the all-clear from a shoulder specialist, and the nod from Manly medical staff, he was confident.
“The body’s still pretty sore. I’ve got to see the specialist this week and if he clears me to play I’m keen to play. I’m hoping I’ll be available.”
Kearney, who cut a sombre figure as part of Melbourne’s staff, checked on Matai’s wellbeing and expected to have him back in black.
“He wants to play, that’s the main thing, and he’s coped fairly well with (the shoulder) all year,” Kearney said.
“It hasn’t been bad enough to hinder his performance. He was good last week and good again tonight.”