Tongan World Cup packman Willie Manu is hoping his early season absence may give him a bonus when it comes to freshness approaching the crucial last third of the season.

His nine-week lay off with a broken and dislocated thumb was the longest he had missed in his career – indeed Manu had an exemplary fitness record at his former club Hull.

The 34-year-old former Castleford and Hull back rower, who is off contract at the end of the season, is currently in talks with Saints about extending his stay at Langtree Park, with coach Nathan Brown a fan of what Manu brings to the table.

But Manu, for the time being, simply wants his rugby do the talking after missing some crucial games in the spring.

He said: “I was out a long time – nine weeks is the longest spell I have had out in my career, and coming back against Catalan in that heat probably wasn’t the best game to come back in.

“But I am glad I got back then because match fitness is something you can’t get by training outside. You need to get in a game environment to get up, and I felt better in the games that followed as a result.”

Saints are pretty well blessed with back rowers, with Manu joined by Sia Soliola, Mark Flanagan, Jon Wilkin and youngsters Luke Thompson, Joe Greenwood and Josh Jones.

It may certainly cause some selection headaches when all fit and in form.

But although all offer different attributes, Saints really could do with the powers a fully match fit Manu can bring to match day.

Coach Brown said: “Willie has been a good performer for the club. It took about six weeks last year for us to learn how to use him most effectively and he had a cracking finish to the season.

“He started this year terrific and has only just come back after breaking his thumb.

“As long as he’s able and his mind is keen on playing, Willie is a player that any club would like to have because he is different to other back rowers.

“He has good feet and his ability to beat people and unload the ball is brilliant.

“Willie provides a lot away from the field too because he prepares well. He is great for the young players and is a good role model.”

With Manu off contract at the end of the season, the discussions have been going on between the player and club.

Manu said: “We are discussing with Saints at the moment and hopefully things will work out. But that is why I get a manager to look after me and I concentrate on the playing – but I do like it here.”

With eight Super League games to go before the play-offs begin, Manu is feeling a little fresher from his early season absence – and that could stand the team in good stead for the real business.

But it is not something Manu would have wished for – he would much prefer to have been playing, especially in the cup game against Leeds and Wigan on Good Friday.

He said: “I do feel a lot fresher but would have preferred to have played every game.

“I am not one of those who likes to miss games.

“I want to be there to support the boys. I struggled a bit watching the boys because I want to be out there with them.

“Last year I missed four games and it is always something I do to myself, usually a broken bone. I have been pretty lucky with injuries and the spell this year was the longest I have been out for in my whole career.”