The New Zealand Warriors have maintained that star player and captain Roger Tuivasa-Sheck will remain with the club next year despite training with the All Blacks Sevens in Mount Maunganui this week.
Tuivasa-Sheck, the 2018 Dally M Medallist for best player in the NRL, has spent the past few days training with the All Blacks Sevens squad at their Bay of Plenty headquarters.
A report from Stuff suggested the 27-year-old had reached out to the reigning World Sevens Series champions for a chance to “meet the side” and “see what the environment is all about” as part of his off-season break.
Not initially expected to train with the side, Stuff reports that Tuivasa-Sheck, who has recently completed a two-week quarantine period after returning from the Warriors’ NRL campaign in Australia, was convinced to lace up the boots.
All Blacks Sevens squad member Tone Ng Shiu posted a pair of images onto his Instagram account where he and his teammates posed with the Warriors fullback.
The post was accompanied by the hashtag ‘#WelcomeHome’.
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News of Tuivasa-Sheck’s involvement in the All Blacks Sevens set-up comes little more than a month after he shot down rumours of a move to the XV-man code.
In September, the former New Zealand Schools and Blues U18 representative expressed frustration at being regularly linked to a switch back to union.
Those comments came less than a week after incoming Warriors coach Nathan Brown declared on Australian radio that Tuivasa-Sheck still harboured aspirations to be an All Black.
Nevertheless, Warriors chief executive Cameron George has insisted that Tuivasa-Sheck will stay at the club next year, which the player in question confirmed himself over a month ago, despite his training stint with the All Blacks Sevens.
“Each year, Roger does an education trip,” George told Stuff. “Last year, he went to the States, but this year, he can’t travel.
“It was coincidental that where he was staying in Papamoa, the sevens team were there too, so he went into their camp to watch and learn.
“If he could have travelled overseas, like last year, when he went training at a university, he would have. He spent a week working with a sprint coach last year.”
George said he was “fully aware” of their star man’s participation with the All Blacks Sevens, and is adamant that he would return to the club for the 2021 season.
That campaign looms as another tricky one for the Warriors to navigate after they were forced to spend their entire season abroad in Australia due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Tuivasa-Sheck – the only player to spend the entire season away from home during the Warriors’ five-month stay across the Tasman – and his teammates could face that prospect again next year.
However, a full-fledged two-way travel bubble between New Zealand and Australia is hoped to be in action by early 2021, which should alleviate the travel strain that the Warriors endured this season.
Renewed speculation surrounding a potential move by Tuivasa-Sheck comes on the same day of reports that Newcastle Knights star Kalyn Ponga could transfer to union in a bid to play at the 2023 World Cup in France.
Newcastle fullback Kalyn Ponga is free to pursue a spot at the 2023 Rugby World Cup after previously unknown details of his long-term Knights contract were revealed. #RugbyWorldCup #RWC2023 #NRL https://t.co/ilNx0znyf8
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) November 5, 2020
In June, the 22-year-old playmaker, who last played union as a schoolboy in 2014, signed what was thought to be a long-term deal that would keep him at the Knights through until 2024, seemingly killing off any hope of a highly-speculated cross-code move.
Revelations on Friday, though, show that Ponga has a player option in his current contract that will make him a free agent by the end of 2022 if he chooses not to take up the final two years of his deal, thus making him eligible for a code switch.
In spite of interest shown by the Wallabies and numerous Super Rugby clubs, the Queensland State of Origin representative said two years ago it would be a “huge goal” of his to play for the All Blacks should he move back to union.
Although he was born in Western Australia, Ponga is eligible to represent New Zealand both through his father and on residency grounds after he spent five years growing up in Palmerston North between 2006 and 2011.
“Obviously, that [playing for the All Blacks] would be a huge goal, if I was to come back to union I’d want to tick,” Ponga told TVNZ in 2018.
“I’m not too sure what my future holds — whether I’m going to stay in league or change codes but if I was to go back to rugby union I’d probably want to strive for that black jumper…it’s the pinnacle.”
In other league-to-union transfer news, former Wallabies and Kangaroos wing Wendell Sailor last week encouraged Rugby Australia to make a play for Sydney Roosters and New South Wales star Angus Crichton.
“Every [NRL] club, [should be looking to sign Crichton],” Sailor told Triple M of the ex-Australia Schools union representative, who is off contract at the end of next season and could be a free agent should the Roosters sign teenage prodigy Joseph Suaalii.
“You know what I love about Angus Crichton. It’s not just what you see on the field, he does a lot of great stuff in the Indigenous community.
“He’s unbelievable and from a really nice family.
“The ARU [Rugby Australia] should be looking to get him back into rugby union.
“He’s a really good player and a lovely young man.”
Former All Blacks midfielder and Sydney Roosters second-rower Sonny Bill Williams, meanwhile, is set to retire from rugby league after becoming a free agent following the Toronto Wolfpack’s exclusion from next year’s Super League.
The Sydney Morning Herald reports that the 35-year-old has “no interest” to play anywhere else and will instead focus on resuming his professional boxing career.
Williams signed a two-year, $10 million deal with the Wolfpack after playing the last of his 58 tests for the All Blacks at the 2019 World Cup in Japan, but joined the Roosters on a loan deal at the backend of this year’s NRL season.
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