NZ Warriors fans honour 'The Beast'

The chilly temperatures may have kept some fans at home but departing hero Manu Vatuvei received a standing ovation as he bid farewell to the Warriors faithful ahead of the match against the Panthers.

Vatuvei on Monday confirmed he had been granted an early release to join Super League club Salford, with the 31-year-old due to depart for the UK on Sunday.

For one night only, Mt Smart has been temporarily renamed 'Manu Vatuvei Stadium' and while his new contract prevented from playing one last game for the Auckland club, his soon-to-be ex-teammates formed a guard of honour as 'The Beast' walked onto the field with his family wearing the No 5 jersey he has held a mortgage on for more than a decade. He shed a few tears as he walked out to the rapturous applause.

The fans were given inflatable hands at the gates as a tribute to Vatuvei's signature try-scoring celebration, with many of his greatest moments featuring on a highlights package on the big screen. 

The players warmed-up in special tees with Vatuvei's club number 115 on the back, while they also have his name, number and signature embroidered into their playing jerseys.

With the result of tonight's match pivotal to both teams' hopes of making the finals, coach Stephen Kearney will be hoping his players rise to the occasion and secure a much-needed two points.

The Warriors are in 10th place on 18 points, one place below the Panthers on for and against, and need to win at least five of their last eight games to have a chance of making the top eight.


Photo: RENEE McKAY/PHOTOSPORT (Manu Vatuvei and his family walk onto the field renamed Manu Vatuvei Stadium. before the Warriors' match against Penrith on Friday).