Blues boss Leon MacDonald reveals where Roger Tuivasa-Sheck will play
The 28-year-old was one of many headline names in MacDonald’s squad as the Blues prepare to clinch back-to-back titles for the first time since 1997 after ending an 18-year title-less drought by winning Super Rugby Trans-Tasman in June.
The addition of Tuivasa-Sheck – who won an NRL Premiership, the 2018 Dally M Medal and played almost 200 NRL matches – will certainly help MacDonald and the Blues in their bid for more silverware.
That quest kicks-off on February 18 when they host the Fijian Drua, one of two new expansions sides in the revamped competition, at Eden Park, a match of which MacDonald said Tuivasa-Sheck will be in selection contention for.
“In his mind, he’s definitely going to be ready to go in round one. It’s about trying to pull him back instead of push him forward. He’s pretty determined and excited,” MacDonald told media on Monday.
“I think you speak to any players and the coaches, we’re a little bit blown away by how quickly he’s taken to the game. It’s a little bit like he’s never left it. His detail in his preparation is really impressive and his skill set is right up there.
“We thought it might take a while to get him to understand our skill set versus league, with the catch-and-pass, kicking, etcetera, but Roger’s a real pro. He’s been working really hard at that, so he’ll be like the rest of the squad.
“We’re doing some training now, but we’ll be building him up through the next two or three months, so, pre-season one [first pre-season match], he’ll be playing for the Blues, injury permitting, along with everyone in the squad and he’ll be trying to push for that game one starting spot.
“That’s how we’ll be progressing with him, and he wouldn’t want it any other way. He’s just going to put his hand up like everybody else and really try and push for that starting spot in game one.”
MacDonald’s confirmation that Tuivasa-Sheck will be available for the side’s season-opener comes after he was denied the chance to make his first-class rugby debut for Auckland in this year’s NPC.
After missing the province’s first two matches, Tuivasa-Sheck was due to play against Bay of Plenty in round three, but never did so after New Zealand entered a nationwide lockdown just days before kick-off.
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) November 21, 2021
He was expected to start on the right wing in that fixture, which MacDonald said was part of the plan for his integration into rugby union.
However, the Blues boss said Tuivasa-Sheck is developing so rapidly that he could be capable of beginning his career in the XV-man code as a midfielder, a position of which both he and All Blacks coach Ian Foster view as best-suited to the ex-Warriors captain.
“He trained on the wing with Auckland, and the big-picture plan was to start him in the outsides with Auckland and then progress him to the midfield for us,” MacDonald said.
“We’ve missed that opportunity through Covid, obviously with the outsides, but the outside backs was easy for him. It didn’t take him long at all to adjust and we feel that he’s probably ticked that outside backs box.
“He did full contact with Auckland and he looked great on the wing. Now, at some point, he wants to play in the midfield.
“He’s made no secret of that, so now we’re probably going, ‘It’s probably easier for you to go back out if we needed you to go out than it is to start out there and come in, so let’s just focus on the midfield and narrow his focus for the next little while’, knowing that if he does become an outside back for whatever reason, then that transition’s halfway done for him.”
Should he be selected to face the Fijian Drua in 12 weeks’ time, Tuivasa-Sheck is likely to be accompanied in the match day squad by most, if not all, of the Blues’ All Blacks, who have recently completed their three-month overseas tour.
The All Blacks have been on the road since August and have played 10 tests in 12 weeks throughout six countries in three different continents.
“For all the key areas he’s allegedly identified for improvement, the All Blacks are getting worse.”
– Hamish Bidwell on the end of the season for Ian Foster’s side. #FRAvNZL #AllBlacks https://t.co/t03hIc2YvN
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) November 22, 2021
As such, questions have been raised about the feasibility of injecting those involved on the tour back into the thick of Super Rugby action from the get-go.
Of the 40-man All Blacks squad currently returning to New Zealand from Europe, nine – Beauden Barrett, Rieko Ioane, Akira Ioane, Dalton Papalii, Nepo Laulala, Ofa Tuungafasi, Karl Tu’inukuafe, Hoskins Sotutu and Finlay Christie – are signed with the Blues.
MacDonald said all of those players will be free for selection like the rest of his squad, but hinted that some may be eased back into action more so than others depending on how much game time they saw with the All Blacks.
“They’re all there, available. The plan, I think, is they will come in. They need a decent break, and they’ll get that break, and they’ll be coming in late, but they will be available,” MacDonald said.
“I think there’s going to be a managing of their minutes in the early rounds, as has happened in the past, because of the fact that they need that extra break. They will be assembling later.
“That’s about getting them back up to speed and not overloading them too quickly, so it’s exciting. It’s going to be a case-by-case basis.
“Some guys have played a lot of rugby and are mentally fatigued, and guys are just going to come back and be hungry to play and we just need to take it case-by-case on what’s best for that player because, ultimately, we want them to come and play really well for us.
“We don’t want them to limp back into a season. We need them ready to go, so that’s up to us to make those decisions to manage them properly.”
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