'Come down here, mate, and then we'll play you': Joe Rokocoko reveals Crusaders approached the wing about a move south
With exceptional top-end pace, a sidestep to rival the greats and what seemed like a permanent smile painted on his face, it was hard to find fault with the flying Fijian – and the man who eventually graced the cover of revered video game Rugby 2005.
Despite all his obvious up-sides, however, there were times when the rocket man struggled for minutes with the Blues. In those early days, including in 2003 when the Blues last won a Super Rugby title, the Auckland-based side had outrageous depth in the outside backs.
Rokocoko was competing with the likes of Rupeni Caucanibuca, Doug Howlett, Mils Muliaina and Rico Gear for a spot in the starting side – and former Crusaders coach Robbie Deans thought that the limited opportunities up north might have left Rokocoko open to a move down south.
Speaking exclusively to The XV, Rokocoko revealed that Deans approached Rokocoko following the Blues’ 38-29 victory over the Crusaders in Christchurch in 2004.
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For those that can’t remember the night, it was the match in which the Blues scored a length of the field try to finish off the game – and Carlos Spencer and co walked out the ball out to the far corner before dotting it down.
Rokocoko, coming back from an injury, was named on the bench for the match – and Deans couldn’t understand why.
“With the Blues in ’04, I didn’t play as much because of the number of quality players we had,” Rokocoko told The XV. “We had Rico, we had Rups, we had Dougie, we had Mils in the back three, had Shannon Paku there covering as well. We had a lot of players so I wasn’t playing as much, we were just swapping around.
“We went down and played the Crusaders and … I was on the bench for most of the match – I don’t know what jersey I was wearing, 20-something. After that game, I spoke to Deanso and he goes, ‘Mate, what are you doing? Why are they not playing you?’ I go, ‘Oh, we’ve got some good players,’ and he goes, ‘Come down here, mate, and then we’ll play you.'”
It might sound like a comment in jest – but it wasn’t the first time that Deans had tried to bring Rokocoko into his set-up.
"He’d raise his eyebrows, he’d do the old look and you’d know something was coming. He’d just tell you to be ready."
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) June 3, 2020
Years earlier, before Rokocoko had even played a game for the Blues, the Crusaders flew the age-grade star down to Christchurch to give him a taste of the facilities. He even had the chance to meet one of his childhood heroes, fellow Fijian Marika Vunibaka.
“He talked about the club and so forth, and how good the organisation was,” Rokocoko said. “I went upstairs to see Deansy – that was the first time I met Deansy before making Super, and he had a bit of interest in me being involved and coming down.
“But, you know, I was a big Blues fan. I’d followed them since the early days and I just wanted to see if that feeling inside of me changed at all when I was down there – and it didn’t. I still bled blue.”
Thankfully for Blues fans, Rokocoko rejected both of Deans’ advances – and forged an impressive career with the side he grew up supporting.
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