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Roger Tuivasa-Sheck headlines Blues squad for Super Rugby Pacific 2022

By Alex McLeod
Photo: Gregg Porteous / NRL Photos

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Of the 31 rookies signing with Kiwi Super Rugby Pacific sides for the first times in their careers, none warrant attention like Roger Tuivasa-Sheck.

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That’s because – with almost 200 NRL appearances, a 2013 Premiership title and a 2018 Dally M Medal to his name – 28-year-old former Warriors captain is among the highest-profile cross-code converts to have moved from rugby league to rugby union.

As such, the inclusion of Tuivasa-Sheck in next year’s Blues squad makes him one of the most prominent names in the Auckland franchise’s roster, and that’s saying something given they also welcome the return of All Blacks centurion Beauden Barrett back from Japan.

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All Blacks head coach Ian Foster reacts to 40-25 All Blacks loss to France in Paris
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All Blacks head coach Ian Foster reacts to 40-25 All Blacks loss to France in Paris

However, none of the 12 new and returning players have the mystique or allure that Tuivasa-Sheck, who is still yet to play his first professional match in union, offers.

Much of that degree of uncertainty stems from the fact that, not only has he not played union since his 1st XV, Blues U18 and New Zealand Schools days from 2011, but also that nobody really knows where exactly in the backline he will play.

One of league’s finest fullbacks who also spent time playing on the wing and at five-eighth, Tuivasa-Sheck has been tipped as either a wing, fullback or midfielder in union, with his exciting skill set suited to anyone of those positions.

Given his inexperience in the XV-man code, though, it was expected that he was going to be eased into action from the No 14 jersey in his NPC debut for Auckland against Bay of Plenty in August.

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However, All Blacks boss Ian Foster has indicated he views Tuivasa-Sheck as a midfielder, but Auckland’s ongoing lockdown prevented everyone from seeing where he will line up as he is still yet to make his first outing in first-class rugby.

His no-show thus far as a union star adds to the anticipation surrounding his imminent Blues debut, but, with as one of the NRL’s finest of the past decade, one would imagine it wouldn’t take much for Tuivasa-Sheck to flourish in next year’s Super Rugby Pacific.

Especially when he is part of backline that has not shortage of talent, such has Barrett, who returns to the Blues for a second campaign after a season off in Japan with Suntory Sungoliath earlier this year.

Expected to retain the franchise’s No 10 jersey, Barrett will form an all-All Blacks halves duo with test rookie Finlay Christie, while Rieko Ioane and Caleb Clarke are starting certainties, whether that be on the wing or in the midfield.

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Through the likes of Mark Telea, Bryce Heem, Stephen Perofeta, Harry Plummer and Sam Nock, the Blues will be well-sourced in terms of experience and back-up to those starters in their backline.

Throw in the prospective talents of youngsters Zarn Sullivan, Jacob Ratumaitavuki-Kneepkens, AJ Lam, Tanielua Tele’a and 2022 newbies Corey Evans, Taufa Funaki and Tamati Tua, and the Blues have an extremely well-balanced cohort of backs.

That mix of test-level quality, youth and experience is also evident within the forward pack, which features eight All Blacks.

Three of those – Dalton Papalii, Akira Ioane and Hoskins Sotutu – come in the loose forwards, while a further four – Nepo Laulala, Ofa Tuungafasi, Karl Tu’inukuafe and Alex Hodgman – are props.

The eighth is veteran second rower Luke Romano, who transfers to the Blues after 10 years, more than 100 appearances and five title-winning campaigns with the Crusaders to act as a season-long replacement for Japan-bound lock Patrick Tuipulotu.

Complementing that vast international experience – which is compounded by the inclusion of Manu Samoa prop Jordan Lay, who fills in for his injured brother Jordan – in the Blues set-up is the experienced campaigners they have in their ranks.

That experience is provided in the form of new players like former Hurricanes hooker Ricky Riccitelli and ex-Brumbies lock James Tucker, as well as returnees such as Tom Robinson, Josh Goodhue, Kurt Eklund and Marcel Renata.

Perhaps one of the most exciting signings made by the Blues in their forward pack is that of young Tasman flanker Anton Segner, the 20-year-old German who has starred for the New Zealand Schools and New Zealand U20 teams in recent years.

The former Germany U16 representative continued that form in this year’s NPC, and is earmarked for future success provided he carries on his robust, defensive style of play.

However, with Papalii, Ioane and Sotutu blocking the path for prospective starters in the loose forwards, Segner – along with Taine Plumtree and fellow newcomers Adrian Choat and Cameron Suafoa – may find it tough going for game time next year.

Nevertheless, Blues fans should be brimming with confidence that their 2022 Super Rugby Pacific campaign can provide the sort of title-winning success they enjoyed in this year’s Super Rugby Pacific campaign.

With such depth, talent and quality throughout their squads, the Aucklanders will challenge the Crusaders as favourites to win the inaugural edition of Super Rugby’s revamped competition.

The Blues will begin their 2022 season against the Fijian Drua at Eden Park on February 19.

2022 Blues transfers

In: Roger Tuivasa-Sheck (rugby league), Beauden Barrett (Suntory Sungoliath), Jordan Lay (Auckland), Ricky Riccitelli (Hurricanes), Luke Romano (Crusaders), James Tucker (Brumbies), Taufa Funaki (Auckland), Corey Evans (Auckland), Tamati Tua (Northland); Cameron Suafoa (North Harbour), Adrian Choat (Auckland), Anton Segner (Tasman) 

Out: Blake Gibson (Hurricanes), Emoni Narawa (Chiefs), Otere Black (Shining Arcs), TJ Faiane (Hino Red Dolphins), Gerard Cowley-Tuioti (Kobe Steelers), Patrick Tuipulotu (Toyota Verblitz), Jacob Pierce (Toshiba Brave Lupus), Ray Nuia (Moana Pasifika), Luteru Tolai (Moana Pasifika), Jonathan Ruru (France), Dillon Hunt (retired)

2022 Blues squad

Hookers: Kurt Eklund, Soane Vikena, Ricky Riccitelli

Props: Alex Hodgman, Jordan Lay, Ofa Tuungafasi, Marcel Renata, Nepo Laulala, Karl Tu’inukuafe

Locks: James Tucker, Josh Goodhue, Sam Darry, Luke Romano.

Loose forwards: Taine Plumtree, Tom Robinson, Akira Ioane, Dalton Papalii, Anton Segner, Hoskins Sotutu, Cameron Suafoa, Adrian Choat

Halfbacks: Finlay Christie, Sam Nock, Taufa Funaki

First-Fives: Beauden Barrett, Harry Plummer, Stephen Perofeta

Midfield: Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, Tanielu Tele’a, Rieko Ioane, Corey Evans, Tamati Tua

Outside backs: Mark Telea, Caleb Clarke, Bryce Heem, AJ Lam, Jacob Ratumaitavuki-Kneepkens, Zarn Sullivan

Unavailable due to injury: James Lay

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