Arnold Mananu “Beast of Kampala” is a 26-year-old born and bred in Uganda from the West Nile region in Zombo district. He honed his rugby skills at Kyadondo Rugby Club with Tigers, Stallions and Toyota Buffaloes.
He moved to Florida, USA where he joined Naples Rugby Football Club (RFC) and now plays for Roots Rugby family and Copperheads Rugby League Football Club (RLFC).
Sunday Monitor’s Deus Bugembe spoke to him about life as a professional rugby league player in the USA.
How would you describe yourself as an athlete and as a person?
I’m a humble, outgoing and hardworking team player who is addicted to winning. I’m also God fearing and I always take time to thank Him for the good things he has done in my life.
When and how did you start playing rugby?
I started playing way back with Tag Rugby when I was very young in 2000. We used to live in Ntinda-Kigowa, a residential suburb of Kampala City. My late grandmother was staying in Nakawa quarters so I usually visited her during weekends. Her home was close to Kyadondo and this helped me find my way to the rugby club to play tag rugby because most of the children in the Nakawa Quarters were always at Kyadondo learning how to play the game. Some days I went because my love for the game kept growing by the day but most of the time, I went to Kyadondo because there was free food after the training sessions.
You have done well in the Rugby League thus far and you’ve grown into a core member of the sides you feature for. But where does the moniker ‘Beast of Kampala’ come from?
A teammate called David B. Dentinger from Kentucky started addressing me as the ‘Beast of Kampala’ in regards to the way I played and approached the game. He said I played fiercely like a beast with loads of energy. It was from there that most of my teammates and other people picked it up and it is now part of me. And before I knew it, I was called the Beast of Kampala by all and sundry. I also know that I am called so because I am from Kampala the capital city of Uganda, my home country.
Having played both rugby union and rugby league, compare and contrast the two disciplines?
Rugby League is faster and more physical compared to the Rugby Union. It also requires more work in the gym. Rugby league also requires only 13 players while union requires 15 players to play a XV’s game. The demands of playing Rugby League have made me increase my work ethic in the gym.
What is your fondest memory when you were still playing Rugby Union in Uganda?
I remember playing in the Sevens tournament in Walukuba, Jinja where I scored a winning try for my team - Toyota Buffaloes. It is a memory I dearly treasure. I also recall going round Richard ‘Giggs’ Odekere for my first try with Stallions in 2010 at a Sevens event in Entebbe. I vividly still remember that moment and relive it each second of my life.
How different is the sporting scene in the US compared to that in Uganda?
In the US, talent is recognised way more than it is in Uganda. Athletes here have improved their lives and standards of living from doing what they love, while in Uganda most athletes do it for the love of the game and this comes with no recognition sometimes. The US recognizes athletes for winning something that lifts the profile of their nation.
Do you ever see yourself playing Rugby Union for the Rugby Cranes?
Yes, of course. I am waiting for that opportunity to come and if it ever presents itself, I will be glad to take it on because I have always yearned to play for my country Uganda. Playing for the Rugby Cranes would mean a lot to me as it is one of my childhood dreams. This year I have been playing for a new team in New York but my season was cut short because I had to come back to Florida to check on my people.
Apart from fullback (No.15), What other position can you play on the rugby field?
I can play every position in the backline but I am more comfortable at 15, wing (11 or 14) and 9.
Do you believe in superstitions? What is your pre-game ritual?
As long as I write mum on the tape around my wrists and put the Christian cross before playing, I am good to go.
Is there a coach or athlete that you look up to as a role model? And why?
Yes, coach Sky Habana of Kyadondo whose real name is Peter Ochol taught me from the time I started playing tag rugby. He initiated me and was there for advice during my years at Stallions and Buffaloes. Around 2017, I almost gave up on playing rugby while I was at Buffaloes but coach Sky was there to encourage me and that's how I never gave up until today.
Besides him, my story as an athlete is not complete without saluting all my coaches for their input. It’s usually very hard for me to pick one specific person since they all played a role in my life .
More so, I cannot forget coach Christine Kizito (Nnalongo) who tutored me at Stallions and also played a very big role in my career growth. She’s one significant person who would contact my family regularly, especially my mother, every time I didn’t show up for training. She did so by speaking to her about my career and in doing so, my parents ended up supporting me in all aspects, I celebrate her.
Back here in the US, coach Roderigus Caesar, an American Rugby League legend, is my inspiration. He gave me the vision that made me who I am. I live each day and go about my life basing on his teachings and words of advice.
You seem like you’re an appreciative product of coaches’ hard work. Who else do you think deserves recognition as having had a say in your progress to-date?
I am full of praise for coach Edgar Lemerigar (Toyota buffaloes), Coach Dek McVey (Copperheads) and coach Curtis Cunz (ROOTS Rugby Family). I cannot stop to thank the late coach Robert Seguya who did a lot for me in my junior years at Tigers. He might be gone but I know I make him smile with my progress.
What do you believe is the greatest challenge you have faced in your sports journey and how do you think it can be countered to help the next generation?
In Uganda, rugby hasn't been that professional and that affected my growth as people basically only play for passion. The reward is minimal and the process of transitioning to the next level is somewhat difficult.
Here in the US, I have not had very many opportunities to go play anywhere else because possessing the Ugandan passport limits me. Whenever you start travel plans, you encounter problems with visa processing to other countries.
What does your daily routine look like? Do you do anything else outside Rugby League?
I wake up as early as 3am. I then have a word of prayer by my bedside, shower and proceed to dress up to hit the gymnasium early. After my gym sessions, I go back home and take a nap. On some days, I hang out with friends, check my emails, update my socials and catch up with what is happening all over the world.
Describe your major highlights and achievements both as a person and in sports so far?
I’ve achieved a lot of personal stuff. Some I cannot even mention whereas I believe I will be able to mention most when the timing is right. But most importantly, I have been able to put a smile on the faces of my family members. Sportingwise, playing the Rugby League has opened up so many doors for me. I will always be indebted to the sport.
What is the best piece of advice you've gained from your coaches?
Whatever you do, give it your all because you never know who is watching.
You recently came back home, are you planning on starting any projects?
Projects are already in the hallways but I’ll say it all when it’s the right time to do so. For now things are still in their infancy stages. Nothing to really talk about.
We get to see a lot of you on social media. What is the importance of social media in a modern athlete’s life? Elucidate.
Social media brings you closer to people who support you. Those who do what you do and those who look up to you. It also sometimes helps you show a little bit of your talent to the world and in doing so it markets you to the bigger audience and forthwith opens doors for new and better opportunities. Apparently social media is the way to go and athletes must take this very seriously.
Which is the one important lesson you've learned from your time as a professional athlete?
Don’t give up. Always strive to be better and never settle for less. A professional athlete should always want more. I’ve learnt this so well that it rings a bell in my ears on a daily basis.
Do you have any advice for budding sportsmen who look up to you? Put God first, be humble and don't get excited with the little achievements you have attained. One must also not forget their own background when they become stars.
What do you see yourself accomplishing in five to 10 years, as an athlete?
I would love to improve as any successful athlete by putting in the hard work. I would also love to win more trophies. I also have plans of learning and studying more about coaching so that I can practice and change people’s lives through sport. In the future, I have plans of helping young talented Ugandan rugby players taste the waters of international sport by giving them a platform where they can get bigger opportunities showcase their skills.
MANANU AT A GLANCE
Full Names: Arnold Mananu
Nickname: Beast of Kampala
Date of Birth: March 26, 1996
Place of Birth: Kampala
Residence: Florida, US
Schools Attended: Kalinabiri Primary School, Kalinabiri Senior Secondary School, YMCA Comprehensive Institute
Other Sports: Football
Current Club: Old Blue Rugby (New York)
Favourite Jersey No: 15. It’s my favourite position
Life Motto: Believe in your craft
Advice to youngsters: Don’t let naysayers put you down
Sporting Idol: American Ceasar Roderigus
Favourite Dish: Posho & Beans
Hobbies: Gym, Watching Movies & Fishing
Additional Reporting By Innocent Ndawula