Matai mystery: Beloved Manly legend who’s disappeared
He has become Manly's mystery man, a former two-time premiership-winning centre turned reclusive introvert on the NSW north coast.
Try as they have to track him down, ex-Sea Eagles teammates say hard-hitting centre Steve Matai has totally disconnected from rugby league, shutting himself off from his footy past.
Now 36, Matai has moved house without telling Manly friends, hasn't returned calls, didn't answer the front door and has refused to attend premiership reunions.
There doesn't appear to be any bad blood behind Matai's move, no animosity, just a player who has totally dropped out.
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Matai is understood to be living in Ballina but no-one at Manly can locate or contact him. Two players recently visited the area and arranged a meeting through a third party but the reunion fell through late.
Manly want it known he is welcome - and dearly wanted - back at the club.
Matai was loved and respected in a gun Manly side which won premierships in 2008 and 2011. Those sides included great mates Kieran Foran, Anthony Watmough, Brent Kite, Jamie Lyon, Brett and Glenn Stewart, Jason King and Matt Ballin.
Organisers invited Matai to the 2008 side's 10-year reunion in 2018 but he declined. The Golden Eagles - Manly's old boys group - desperately hope Matai will attend next year's decade-long anniversary to celebrate the 2011 premiership.
Matai played 230 games for Manly, scoring 91 tries over 12 seasons and played 10 Tests for New Zealand before retiring in 2016.
"Steve is a legend of our club and we would love to get him down for Golden Eagles Day but unfortunately we can't track him down these days," said Golden Eagles chairman, Mark Bryant, who played with Matai in the '08 triumph.
Former Manly official and director, Peter Peters, who collected a rookie Matai from Sydney Airport when he signed in 2005, said: "Several of his premiership-winning teammates have tried to bring him back into the fold without success and have even gone to his town on the north coast where he lives, but to no avail.
"I have no idea why he has chosen to shut his door on his great career and teammates but he will always be welcome at Manly."
One of league's most feared players on the field, there are two possible theories about why Matai has disappeared now he is away from the pitch. He had a genuine dislike for the spotlight and was also gutted about an erroneous 2016 media report naming him amid match-fixing allegations. Matai furiously denied the story and it prompted a public apology from the media organisation which published the article.
"He is really reclusive these days, which is really unfortunate. He just upped and left and is out of the limelight now," said one former teammate. "He obviously doesn't want to get in touch again. He has pulled back from everything.
"We miss him and would love to talk to him more. It's disappointing we can't talk to him anymore because he is a great guy. We will keep trying to track him down. It sad because we all played so many years together but don't get to talk to him anymore."
And another Sea Eagles teammate said: "He has cut himself right off. You can't get hold of him on any phone numbers. I heard he moved but no-one knew.
"You know someone is keeping to themselves when people rock up his house and he doesn't live there anymore. There is no bad blood and I don't think it's personal. He just wanted to be left alone, that's the way Stevie was.
"I think someone reached out to his family on social media but just got back short answers. It seems he is just happy to put his head down and do his own thing."
Peters added: "Steve Matai has always been a very private person but a great team member, player and individual."
Asked did he believe Matai would attend next year's reunion, one player said: "Probably not. After all this time, he probably won't come and pretend nothing has happened. All you can do is send him an invitation."
Originally published as Matai mystery: Beloved Manly legend who's disappeared