Manie Libbok says he is excited to have been warmly welcomed at the Sharks after his exit from the Vodacom Bulls, where he had faced disillusionment over a lack of opportunities.
In a snippet from the latest SA Rugby magazine, Libbok chatted to MIKE GREENAWAY about the reasons why he sought an exit from Loftus, and how he found a happy home at the Sharks.
It would be a push to say the Bulls chased Manie Libbok from Loftus Versfeld, but at the same time the Sharks will tell you that they could not believe their luck when the exciting utility back came knocking on their door.
Libbok is one of those talented backs who is comfortable in several positions – he has played flyhalf, fullback, centre and wing for the Bulls – which makes him a valuable asset for any professional rugby team.
He is also a brave youngster who thrives on taking the ball to the line, where he has the offloading skills to thread support runners through gaps. He has said he models his game on Dan Carter, and you can see why.
And yet the 23-year-old found himself in some discontent this year, to the point that he asked his agent to sound out the Sharks for a possible move, because the enthusiastic Durbanites were playing with a zest for life that was absent at the Bulls and also because life behind Morne Steyn had zero appeal.
Veteran Steyn’s return from France to his old stomping grounds was indeed a controversial one. Some argued that his experience would be a boost for the struggling Bulls, while others felt it was an obstruction to the young talent coming through.
Libbok was in the latter camp …
‘After Handre Pollard left, I thought I would get a proper chance, but it didn’t happen,’ Libbok says. ‘Morne came back and I found myself behind in the pecking order once more … It was not a nice feeling because I thought it was my turn.’
Fuelling Libbok’s unhappiness was the fact that his dream of being a Bulls hero was shattering before his eyes.
‘I was always a Bulls supporter, so my first contract for them was a dream come true … I had a good five years at the Bulls and will always be grateful for them for giving me a contact, but unfortunately things did not go the way I wanted after I felt I had done my apprenticeship.’
After finishing school in George and playing SA Schools in 2015, Libbok joined the Bulls on a junior contract – since 2016 he played seven games for the Blue Bulls XV, 16 for the Blue Bulls and 17 Vodacom Super Rugby games for the Bulls. During that time he also made 10 appearances for the SA Under-20 team (2016-2017).
‘When I saw how things were working out for me at the Bulls, I felt it was time for a change … And the Sharks were playing the kind of game I like to play,’ says Libbok.
‘The rugby they played to go top of Super Rugby was unbelievable and I wanted to be part of it. They play a game that, to me, is the best of both worlds in that it is controlled, but when an opportunity presents itself, they flick into expansive mode. They are not reckless but are also not shy to have a full go when it is on.’
And while Libbok was watching the Sharks enjoying themselves and clearly playing for each other, the Bulls were falling apart.
‘It was clear for all to see that the Sharks have a warm team culture and are loving what they do, and for me to see that … Yes, it made me excited,’ he admits. ‘So when we had that 21-day period in which we could free ourselves from contracts, I told my agent I wanted to go to the Sharks, and asked him to talk to them.’
*The full version of this article can be found in the latest SA Rugby magazine, now on sale!
Photo: Steve Haag/Gallo Images