"We're the two best centres in the world".
That's what Sydney Roosters centre pairing Latrell Mitchell and Joseph Manu said to one another when they embraced at full-time on Saturday night at Mt Smart Stadium following their Test debuts opposite each other.
However, Mitchell later had no hesitation in admitting Manu had got the better of him and made the bold prediction that Kiwi rookie was set to become the best centre in the game.
Playing before a crowd that included more than 300 friends and family from his home town of Tokoroa, Manu turned in a performance that earned him comparisons with New Zealand great Kevin Iro as the Kiwis downed Australia 26-24.
The 22-year-old scored a try, laid on one for winger Jordan Rapana and had another disallowed as he continued his rapid rise at the end of this season, which culminated in a starring role in the NRL grand final for the Roosters.
"He's an unbelievable talent," Mitchell said. "I don't doubt he'll be the best centre in the game one day - probably could even be next year. He just turns it on. I think he can go to another level. He has showed that."
It's a big statement, given that Mitchell is currently regarded as the NRL's No.1 centre after helping NSW to State of Origin glory and the Roosters to a premiership to win his first Test jersey for Australia.
"I actually believe he can be the best centre in the game," Mitchell said. "I know I get the raps, but that's not for me to say. The way he's played the last two years, I've seen him grow as a player. He's an unbelievable talent and the things he does I wish I could do."
The pair, who have risen together from SG Ball to under 20s to first grade at the Roosters since 2014, immediately sought each other out on the field at full-time.
Told of Mitchell's comments, Manu said: "It's pretty nice words coming from him. We just talked about it after the game, and we said, 'were the two best centres in the world'. We have a lot of respect for each other".
Mitchell said: "I said to him 'congrats, I'm proud of you and love ya'. He said the same back and we shared a hug. It was a special moment. I was proud of his performance but disappointed in myself for letting him play as well as he did".
After putting winger Valentine Holmes over for a try in just the third minute, it appeared Mitchell was going to win the duel but Manu fended him off to score in the 34th minute and offloaded in a tackle by the Kangaroos' left-edge pairing for Jordan Rapana to cross in the 67th minute.
"I put a bit of footwork on him and caught him off guard," Manu said. "It's good to get over the line. All my family was at that end and they were going crazy. I can't put it into words. He got a couple over me. It wasn't the best defensive game I've had."
Mitchell said he had tried to put Manu off his game with some friendly banter but he ignored it.
"I was trying to give him a spray but he blocked it out," Mitchell said. "It was awesome to see him take the game on. He's got a strong fend. He caught me by surprise. I'm usually the one doing it, but I got whacked with it.
"I'm happy to see him do well. He's one of my brothers, we're close and I enjoy watching him play. He's a freak and you're always on the edge of your seat. I got goose bumps playing against him."
Match: New Zealand v Australia
Round 1 -
Venue: Mt Smart Stadium