If reports that rugby league star Roger Tuivasa-Sheck is on his way to rugby union with an eye on an All Blacks jersey at the 2023 World Cup are to be believed, the implications of such a move would be significant in the fifteen-man code.
According to both the New Zealand Herald and Daily Telegraph, negotiations could be finalised within a week to bring the 27-year-old to union next year following a stellar 10 seasons in the NRL.
This isn’t the first time Tuivasa-Sheck has been linked with a move away from league.
The Warriors captain has been the subject of plenty of cross-code speculation in recent years, with his name regularly linked to New Zealand Rugby [NZR] and the Blues.
Tuivasa-Sheck has previously spoken of how he has considered transferring back to the sport he once represented New Zealand in at schoolboy level.
It was in the 2011 New Zealand Schools team where he was teammates with future All Blacks Ardie Savea, Ngani Laumape and Patrick Tuipulotu, and, if the fresh reports are true, he may well be lining up with that trio in test rugby in the coming years.
That is a big maybe, though.
There is no denying the mercurial talents that Tuivasa-Sheck, an NRL Premiership winner with the Roosters in 2013 and a Dally M Medallist in 2018, possesses.
Renowned as one of the best and most exciting athletes in rugby league, his pure athleticism alone would be a valued asset to any rugby union side.
That is before you take into account the professionalism and leadership he put on show during the Warriors’ season-long stay in Australia last year.
Then weigh in his international schoolboy history in union, albeit from a decade ago, and Tuivasa-Sheck could mount a serious challenge for a place in the 2023 World Cup squad.
Despite all his obvious talents, however, Tuivasa-Sheck cannot be expected to waltz into the All Blacks in this current World Cup cycle.
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) January 28, 2021
Not when two-time World Rugby Player of the Year Beauden Barrett has been a regular fixture at fullback, the position Tuivasa-Sheck plays in rugby league and would likely play in union, since midway through 2019.
Not when Crusaders starlet Will Jordan is beginning to emerge as one of the brightest young prospects in this corner of the globe.
Not when Jordie Barrett is dominating in Super Rugby and still has unrealised potential at test level, not when Damian McKenzie is still running amuck and not when David Havili, as good as he is, is the fifth-choice fullback behind the aforementioned names.
That is a serious logjam of talent that Tuivasa-Sheck, who is also eligible for Samoa, would have to surpass in two Super Rugby campaigns if he is to be considered for 2023.
In that time, he would have to acquaint himself with the differing nuances that come with the fullback role in union, especially with the dual playmaking scheme in fashion across New Zealand.
It may be that Tuivasa-Sheck flourishes in the No. 15 jersey, which naturally has its similarities with league’s No. 1 role.
But, given the increasing responsibilities that come with the fullback position in union, being reintroduced to the sport from the wing at Super Rugby level might be a more viable option for the 20-test Kiwi.
Unless one of the other four New Zealand Super Rugby sides pull off a massive coup in steering Tuivasa-Sheck in their direction, the Blues stand as extreme favourites to secure his services.
Aside from his birth in Apia and his stint in Sydney with the Roosters, Tuivasa-Sheck has spent the majority of his life in Auckland, where he has two children under the age of five with his partner.
Having spent the whole 2020 NRL season away from his young family as the Warriors duked it out in Australia, it wouldn’t surprise if Tuivasa-Sheck makes the decision to join the Blues purely so he can stay put in these uncertain COVID-19 times.
View this post on Instagram
The added history of having played for the Blues at U18 level while still at Otahuhu College might strengthen the franchise’s ploy for Tuivasa-Sheck, but how that shapes the dynamic of their backline will hold plenty of intrigue.
Regardless of whether he is at fullback or on the wing, there will be implications for both the stars and young guns in the backline of the three-time title-winning franchise.
A permanent shift back to first five for Beauden Barrett would be in order should Tuivasa-Sheck take the fullback spot, but the move would come at a cost.
Experienced playmaker Otere Black was the first-choice No. 10 for the Blues throughout most of last year, with Barrett and Stephen Perofeta, who is equally adept at fullback, the only other starters in that position.
Black, Perofeta and young pivot Harry Plummer are all gunning for a place in the franchise’s starting lineup, but those aspirations would take a hefty hit if Barrett is forced back into first five by Tuivasa-Sheck’s arrival.
That could spur the trio to look elsewhere for playing time, while rookie fullback Zarn Sullivan, who has lofty potential after coming through the ranks as a first five, would also have to weigh up his options if Tuivasa-Sheck is preferred at No. 15.
Should Tuivasa-Sheck instead be eased back into union from the wing, he could make up one half of a dynamite wing combination with powerhouse All Blacks star Caleb Clarke.
However, after shining as one of the top rookies for the Blues last year, Mark Telea’s game time would be slashed if he was usurped in the No. 14 jersey.
The 24-year-old is already facing stern competition from highly-touted youngster Jacob Ratumaitavuki-Kneepkens, powerful rookie AJ Lam and exciting duo Emoni Narawa and Jone Macilai-Tori for a place in the starting team.
Tuivasa-Sheck’s arrival would only increase that challenge, which, again, may force any one of Telea, Ratumaitavuki-Kneepkens, Lam, Narawa and Macilai-Tori, who is the oldest lot at the age of 30, to look for greener pastures.
Nevertheless, acquiring a player as rich in talent and as reputable as Tuivasa-Sheck is a prospect that does not come often, so you can bet your bottom dollar the Blues, and NZR, will make the necessary sacrifices in order for him to make the switch.
Sign up to our mailing list for a weekly digest from the wide world of rugby.Sign Up Now