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How the 2017 Lions tour helped inspire Roger Tuivasa-Sheck's code swap

By Alex McLeod
(Photos / Getty Images)

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Former NRL star and new Blues recruit Roger Tuivasa-Sheck has revealed the 2017 British & Irish Lions tour of New Zealand played a significant role in his decision to jump codes from rugby league to rugby union.


Speaking to former All Blacks wing Jeff Wilson on Breakdown The Pod, Tuivasa-Sheck opened up on his decision to leave behind his glittering league career in the NRL and embark on union career with the Blues in Super Rugby Pacific.

A former New Zealand Schools and Blues U18 representative, Tuivasa-Sheck said that he maintained an interest in union during his time in the NRL, where he made almost 200 appearances for the Sydney Roosters and New Zealand Warriors.

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Picking the 2022 Super Rugby Pacific champions | Aotearoa Rugby Pod
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Picking the 2022 Super Rugby Pacific champions | Aotearoa Rugby Pod

That interest piqued after 2018 Dally M Medallist returned to New Zealand to play for the Warriors following a title-winning four-season spell at the Roosters in 2016.

The following year, the British & Irish Lions travelled to New Zealand to face the All Blacks in a three-test series, as well as the five Super Rugby franchises and the New Zealand Provincial Barbarians.

Tuivasa-Sheck said he attended one of the three matches at Eden Park – either the opening or closing tests against the All Blacks, or the loss to the Blues – and said he was left in awe of the magnitude of the occasion.

That, the 28-year-old said, helped fuel his passion for union and sparked a desire to return to the XV-man code long after the Lions left New Zealand with a series draw.


“Yeah, I definitely followed the rugby, especially the Blues, again, being in Auckland, and whenever the New Zealand teams go ahead with each other,” Tuivasa-Sheck told Breakdown The Pod.

“I think I moved back in 2016, and in 2017 or ‘18, when they had the Lions tour, I was lucky enough to go to one of those games.

“The stage that they were playing on, I kind of sat there and looked around and said, ‘Wow, this is the stage, playing at Eden Park, full stadium, these are the stages’, and because I’m a competitor, this is where I wanted a challenge, on the big stages like this.

“A lot of times, that played on the back of my mind, ‘Should I have a crack at this or not?’, but, now that I’m here, I’m really excited about this new journey that I’m in and I’m ready to get stuck in.”


Five years later, Tuivasa-Sheck is now primed to make his official union debut with the Blues after being denied the chance to feature for Auckland in last year’s NPC due to the city’s four-month lockdown.


Tuivasa-Sheck’s wait for his first Super Rugby Pacific appearance has been held off by at least another week, though, as his side’s season-opener against Moana Pasifika has been postponed from this Friday due to a Covid outbreak in the opposition squad.

Nevertheless, Tuivasa-Sheck had the opportunity to try his hand at union for the first time since he was a schoolboy two weeks ago when he played for the Blues against the Hurricanes in a pre-season clash in Wellington.

Named to start at second-five, Tuivasa-Sheck helped guide the Blues to a 28-21 win at Rugby League Park, although he did so in understated fashion as he endured a quiet game in wet conditions.

However, the All Blacks prospect was pleased to have simply taken to the field after six months without action of any kind in either code.

“I loved it. I really enjoyed it. I’d been hanging out, waiting for a game, especially as I came over quite early from the Warriors to get a game with the Auckland NPC [team], but that fell short,” he said.

“Then we went into another pre-season with the Blues, and then now, getting a game, I’m excited. ‘Here we go, we’re in the pouring rain at Rugby League Park in Wellington’. It was exciting. I was just happy to play.


“I made a few mistakes there, which I’ll take the lessons [from], and got to get some body contact again and go live.”

Tuivasa-Sheck conceded he is still coming to terms with the nuances of union, particularly at the breakdown, but said he is doing so without acknowledging the external pressure that comes with being one of league’s top stars trying to make his name in union.

“My biggest thing was not to come out here and throw the pompoms on and say, ‘Here I am, I’m a Blues man’,” he told Breakdown The Pod.

“I really wanted to make it official by putting all my work into the pre-season and earning a spot in round one and putting it all on the field so I can really earn the groundwork and earn the players’ respect from out here waving the flag.

“For me, I put my expectation on myself. Doing that just means I just clear out all the other noise and I just go to work.

“There’s always my old man there, there’s my manager there, there’s a little circle that I have that I keep going back to, but, at the end of the day, the expectation is on myself, so any other noise is just noise to me.”


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