One on One with Roger Tuivasa-Sheck

Roger Tuivasa-Sheck missed New Zealand’s triumphant Four Nations win last year to focus on his club switch from wing to full-back.

The move paid off for him in the 2015 NRL season and now he is ready to make his mark again on the international scene.

The numbers paint a pretty interesting picture. Twenty-seven games and 12 tries, ranked 20th in the NRL. First in the competition for run metres and runs, and eighth for line breaks. Ninth in the NRL for try assists, the most of any fullback, and 13th for offloads, the most of any Roosters player.

All this for a player in just his third full year of first-grade, in his first in the number one jumper. If there was any doubt of Roger Tuivasa-Sheck’s talent, the awesome Apia-born phenomenon, then this season proved it.

Already Tuivasa-Sheck has won an NRL grand final, made his Test debut for New Zealand at 20 and played in a World Cup final. He was in the Toyota Cup team of the year in 2012, named the Dally M winger of the year in 2013 and the Dally M fullback of the year in 2015. It’s been some rise for a player who is only just 22.

In the modern game of rugby league the role of the full-back is all-important. They are often the link between defence and attack, the third half in effect, the person who chimes into that attacking line to deliver the key pass or kick.

They have to be excellent ball-runners, finishers, great defenders and safe under the high ball. They are the final line of defence and offer crucial support play.

Think Billy Slater, Greg Inglis, Brett Stewart, Darius Boyd, Josh Dugan, Zak Hadaker. Full-backs are the stars of our code in the 21st century – the excitement machines. And ‘RTS’ is only getting warmed up.

Tuivasa-Sheck was absent from New Zealand’s successful Four Nations tilt in 2014 as his club coach, Roosters boss Trent Robinson, wanted him to focus on his position switch. With former Golden Boot winner Anthony ‘Mini’ Minichiello retiring, the Kiwi had huge shoes to fill at Bondi Junction.

“Telling Stephen Kearney that I couldn’t make the Four Nations was a pretty hard decision but I don’t have regrets because of what I had to do,” Tuivasa-Sheck explained.

“I had a long way, I put some hard yards into the new role that I had to adapt to. I’m happy I made that decision and I’m happy I’m become the player that I am today.

“It was Trent Robinson’s decision, he was my coach at the time and I had to trust in him. And it worked.”

Stats don’t lie

The statistics, and the Tricolours capture of their third NRL minor premiership in three years, don’t disagree. Every time Tuivasa-Sheck got the ball in a Roosters game this year it looked like he would make something happen, and often, he did.

“I enjoyed it a lot,” the full-back mused.

“I understood it a bit more and I had to get some more knowledge in my role and you always feels good when you know what you to do and what’s expect.

“‘Mini’ is a legend of the club and he was always there by my side, helping me, helping me nutrition-wise and it was all feeling into place for me.

“I felt like I was being spoiled. I had to give back that way and perform well, and it worked.”

Next year Tuivsa-Sheck will be strutting his stuff for the New Zealand Warriors next year. It’s an undoubted blow for the Roosters, who were keen to keep him, but the fullback decided to head home. Along with fellow Kiwi stars Issac Luke and Shaun Johnson, the Warriors will have an eye-catching local spine in the 2016 season and beyond.

For Tuivasa-Sheck, the chance to provide for his family’s future was his main motivation for leaving Sydney.

“The decision was based on family, helping them start their life in Sydney, which the offer the Warriors gave me has allowed me to do,” he said.

“My family will stay in Sydney and continue to live there and I will move to Auckland and begin my own life. The offer’s allowed me to do both, which has been good. It’s very exciting for the future.”

But before his new Warriors’ journey kicks off, the outside back has unfinished business with the Kiwi national team.

With Peta Hiku at fullback, New Zealand beat Australia twice on the way to the Four Nations crown. As Johnson and Kieran Foran are unavailable for this series against England, Hiku has moved into the halves with Tuivasa-Sheck in the number one shirt.

The Kiwis are the top ranked team in the world and have strung together a hat-trick of wins over the Kangaroos. They have a bevvy of world-class operators.

The good times are rolling for New Zealand rugby league. England is up next. At home and at full-strength, the English will be a huge challenge.

New Zealand will need Tuivasa-Sheck to step up, to support inexeperienced half-back pairing Hiku and Tui Lolohea, to help damage England.

English rival

In the three-Test series the Kiwis will come up against another young, talented full-back, in the shape of 2015 Super League Man of Steel Zak Hardaker.

Tuivasa-Sheck admits he doesn’t know much about the Rhinos custodian, but is looking forward to the challenge.

“I haven’t seen much of him. I’ve heard of his name being tossed up,” he said.

“It’s exciting for the game to get to face players of the Super League. It will be good to play a different style [of player]. I’m always up for learning and what I can grab from their game.”

The Kiwis’ win over Leeds demonstrated how important ‘Roger the Dodger’ is to the Antiopdean nation. He picked up two tries, countless line breaks and thwarted several Rhinos attacks with his fierce tackling. With his impressive speed and lightning step, Tuivasa-Sheck is a threat from anywhere on the pitch.

England coach Steve McNamara, an assistant with the Roosters, knows the 22-year old intimately. McNamara will be aware what the Samoan sensation can do and will surely be advising his players to kick the ball away from him. Young, confident, in-form, Tuivasa-Sheck is coming into his own as a rugby league player.

Back in the New Zealand set-up, back in the black shirt, the full-back is ready to make up for lost time.

“I’m enjoying it so far, being with the boys in the camp,” he said.

“We’re ready for the big ones.”

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