After more than a month since his last NRL Telstra Premiership appearance – spent on medical leave following his punishment for failing to meet team standards – the 216-game veteran was back to help the Kiwi side produce their best performance of the year in a 36-18 victory over Brisbane.
After the win coach Andrew McFadden paid tribute to the hulking winger, while Shaun Johnson, Tuimoala Lolohea, Solomone Kata and captain Ryan Hoffman all joined him in showing their admiration for Vatuvei.
"Massive... the sacrifice carries he makes are just massive for the team," Lolohea told NRL.com when asked how much help it was having Vatuvei back on deck.
"Especially during the tough times in games, Manu puts his hand up to have a carry every time.
"He had some big carries – along with 'Sol' [Kata] and Fus [David Fusitu'a] – and it makes a big difference when you get that with a quick play the ball, it's easy to play footy off the back of that."
With 11 carries for 90 metres and a couple of errors on the night, it was hardly one of Vatuvei's best performances.
But McFadden said much of his work couldn't be measured by stats, including those carries out of yardage when the team is in trouble.
"I thought he was really good, he certainly provided a spark for us in that first half," McFadden said.
"I think one of the long-range tries came off the back of one of his carries, and leading up to that carry he had I think we went backwards for the first two plays.
"I could just see him grit his teeth and say 'this is where the team needs me', and that's what Manu does for us.
"He is a class player and those sorts of players have a different edge to them I suppose."
In the lead-up to the match Vatuvei spoke of his nerves, and he said that didn't get better as the seconds counted down towards kick-off in Round 13.
"I was nervous the whole week, I tried to keep a straight face the whole time, but I was telling family how nervous I was," Vatuvei said.
"During the week I got a lot of confidence through the feeling of the boys and through all our trainings and stuff.
"I have got a lot of confidence now after the game, so I just have to keep building on that."
So far this year Vatuvei has two tries in six games, as he continues to chase yet another NRL record by scoring 10 tries in 11 consecutive seasons.