By Hamish Bidwell
AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND ,FEBRUARY 5, 2021: 11:29AM (RNZ/PACNEWS): You can see the logic from Roger Tuivasa-Sheck’s perspective.
He’ll be 28 next year and reaching the twilight of his rugby league career. He gave up on NRL title-winning glory the minute he swapped the Sydney Roosters for the New Zealand Warriors, so there’s no issue on that score.
If Tuivasa-Sheck wants to keep living in New Zealand – and keep being paid an elite footballer’s salary – then options are few.
The Warriors are staring down the barrel of a second straight season of playing all their matches in Australia, so that will have been a consideration too.
Being in Auckland clearly matters to the man, otherwise he wouldn’t have turned his back on potentially being the finest rugby league player on the planet.
Just imagine him still being the Roosters’ fullback and not James Tedesco. Think of the two titles the team have won since Tuivasa-Sheck bailed out and the magnificent football they’ve played.
If RTS was good enough to claim the game’s most prestigious individual honour – the Dally M – while playing for the Warriors, the mind boggles at what he might have achieved in a decent team.
We’ll never know now. This season is set to be Tuivasa-Sheck’s last one in rugby league, before he returns to the code of his youth.
You get what’s in this for him. A decent pay day at a time of career transition, being based at home for much of the year and a less physical game would all be appealing.
Whether he makes a success of Super Rugby or not, you assume there’ll eventually be a rugby contract waiting for him in Japan as well. It sure beats slogging your guts out for Wigan or St Helens, to make one final footballing buck.
But what on earth is in this for New Zealand Rugby (NZR)? What possible benefit can there be to them from signing a 28-year-old never was?
It doesn’t matter whether Tuivasa-Sheck was a schoolboy star. He hasn’t played rugby since 2011 and only appears remotely suited to the game we have today.
Think of some of the better fullbacks we have in this country. Men such as Beauden and Jordie Barrett, Damian McKenzie, David Havili and Will Jordan.
They’re almost all great punters of the ball and goal kickers and playmakers, as well as being electric on attack. Such is the wealth of talent we have in that position, that we’ve spent years putting fullbacks such as Cory Jane, Israel Dagg, Ben Smith, Jordie Barrett, Havili and Jordan onto the right wing as well.
Does Tuivasa-Sheck boast many – or any – of their skills?
Let’s say wing becomes his spot and that he ends up playing Super Rugby for the Blues. Who’s going to tell Mark Telea and Caleb Clarke they’re sitting out this week, so the 28-year-old rookie can have a run.
Telea was one of the finds of the last Super Rugby season and was rewarded with selection in the inter-island match, while Clarke became an All Black. Is Tuivasa-Sheck a better bet than them?
He might have been at 24 or 25, but that’s unlikely now.
Ngani Laumape, for instance, trod a very similar path to Tuivasa-Sheck. A national schools representative, who then went to rugby league, Laumape is 28 in two months’ time.
It took him a good couple of years to re-adjust to rugby; time that Tuivasa-Sheck doesn’t have.
Again, you can see why he’d fancy a change of codes, but how does his signature benefit NZR?
Tuivasa-Sheck isn’t the brand that Sonny Bill Williams was, for instance. Whether you loved him or hated him, everything SBW did was news and people tuned in or bought tickets just because of that.
He was also just 25 when he first signed an NZR contract.
Tuivasa-Sheck isn’t as marketable and won’t justify his salary 10 times over in publicity. In fact he could turn out to be a bit of a bust.
Given good coaching and a few years to learn the game, he could prove a handy second five-eighth. But, in all fairness, you assume he’ll be in Japan by the end 2023.
Rather than excitement at what Tuivasa-Sheck might do in rugby, you feel a sadness about the great things he could’ve done in rugby league.
His has been a fine career, but not a truly great one. He needed to stay with the Roosters in order to achieve that.