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'He just wants to play': Tuivasa-Sheck set for Blues debut after starring in training

By Alex McLeod
(Photo by Phil Walter/Getty Images)

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The biggest recruit of the Super Rugby Pacific off-season is in line to make his rugby union debut as early as the first round of the new competition.

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That’s the verdict from Blues head coach Leon MacDonald, who has been impressed by Roger Tuivasa-Sheck’s first few weeks in training as a rugby union player since switching codes from rugby league.

All eyes will be fixated on the former NRL star, who is yet to play a first-class match in the XV-man game since his move from the Warriors following Auckland’s four-month lockdown last year, throughout the course of this season.

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The city-wide lockdown denied Tuivasa-Sheck the chance to feature for Auckland in the 2021 NPC, with the province one of three sides to withdraw from New Zealand’s premier domestic competition due to the Covid outbreak after only two rounds of action.

As such, the 2018 Dally M Medal-winner missed the chance to accustom himself to the nuances of union in the lead-up to the upcoming Super Rugby Pacific campaign.

However, MacDonald is confident about Tuivasa-Sheck’s odds of thriving in his new code, despite his disrupted introduction to the sport, after having seen the 2013 NRL champion’s early performances in training.

“He trains every day like he’s playing a game with his intensity and his contact,” MacDonald told reporters on Tuesday.

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“They must do a lot of contact in league because he never shies away from it, right from the first warm-up drill, so that’s not an issue.

“We try and train so we’re replicating games as much as we can, so we can sit down with Roger and talk through the pictures, but, until we go live and he gets some minutes under his belt, he’ll feel a lot more comfortable for where he’s at and we can also help him fill those voids, if there is any.”

It would be no surprise, then, to see Tuivasa-Sheck line up for the Blues in their season-opening cross-town derby against Moana Pasifika at Mt Smart Stadium – the home of his former NRL team, the Warriors – on February 18, exactly one month from today.

While debate continues to swirl about where he would fit into an all-star Blues backline, MacDonald strongly suggested that it may well be at second-five where Tuivasa-Sheck – who could also play at centre, wing or fullback – begins his rugby union career.

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“That’s where we’re playing him. I think he looks good there, really good there,” MacDonald said.

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“He likes being in the middle of the play, he likes to have the ball in his hands, he’s able to take the line on, he enjoys that, and he loves the physicality, so he’s enjoying the defensive side as well. At the moment, it looks like it suits him.”

MacDonald has the luxury of two pre-season fixtures against the Hurricanes and Chiefs in the coming weeks to mix-and-match Tuivasa-Sheck in different positions to see where he is best-suited to prior to his side’s clash with Moana Pasifika.

For Tuivasa-Sheck, though, those matches will present him with the long-awaited opportunity to finally take to the field as a rugby union player, something that MacDonald indicated was a salivating prospect for the former Kiwis international.

“He’s contributing really well, he’s contributing well in the meeting rooms as well,” MacDonald said.

“Like I said, I think he just wants to get out there and play a game of rugby, because it just feels like forever. He’s had the carrot dangled in front of him a few times, and it just keeps getting pulled out from his feet, so he just wants to play.”

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