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Roger Tuivasa-Sheck won't have space at 12 like he does in rugby league

By Hamish Bidwell
(Photo by Phil Walter/Getty Images)

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Roger Tuivasa-Sheck at 12? Honestly, I’m not sure.

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It’s easy to like RTS. The man’s been a model professional athlete, carrying himself in a manner that’s been a credit to himself, his family and every team who’s contracted him.

He was a very fine player at the Sydney Roosters, but was unable to make a demonstrable impact at the New Zealand Warriors. That wasn’t his fault, more a reflection of the calibre of those two NRL clubs.

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We’re now eager to see what Tuivasa-Sheck can do in rugby, where many expected him to pop up on the right wing.

Instead, we’re told second five-eighth will be his position, which I have to admit feels like a stretch.

I mentioned the goodwill towards Tuivasa-Sheck, because that’s important. People will give him the benefit of the doubt and will forgive whatever missteps the 28-year-old takes, as he returns to the game of his youth.

But the man has made his name – and his millions – playing as an outside back and now faces an uphill task to suddenly turn himself into a serviceable international midfielder.

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I say international, because Tuivasa-Sheck won’t have come cheap. New Zealand Rugby (NZR) will want some bang for their buck, which means the man will need to quickly establish himself as an All Black to justify their spend.

The fact he’s not being seen as a wing – who are frankly a dime a dozen in these parts – probably tells you why the former Dally M fullback of the year is about to play 12. It simply doesn’t make economic sense to have a bloke who’ll be 29 in June chasing and returning kicks, when you could pay someone with less miles in their legs to do it for practically nothing.

Let’s look at the man’s strengths. He has good feet, is quick off the mark, strong, brave, a useful ballplayer and occasionally effective short-kicker.

If I think of a rugby player in my lifetime with a similar skillset, John Schuster comes to mind. Like Tuivasa-Sheck, he was a 12 before going on to play wing in rugby league.

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Tuivasa-Sheck has been an adequate first or second-receiver in rugby league and can organise quite well. He’s vocal and a leader and possessed with decent vision.

But he was at his best in the NRL when in space. It was rare for the first tackler to stop him on a kick return, given his ability to step off either foot.

Tuivasa-Sheck won’t have space at 12. He’ll be taking the ball flat with loose forwards and all sorts to contend with.

He’s not built to be a battering ram or known for an ability to offload in the tackle. Nor, beyond a grubber or two, is he a noted kicker.

And, as Ngani Laumape will tell you, not being able to punt expertly off either foot can be seen as something of a disadvantage when you play 12.

I could see Tuivasa-Sheck at centre, carrying the ball in a fashion similar to Rieko Ioane. Tuivasa-Sheck lacks Ioane’s power and outright speed, but centre would afford him more space to beat defenders one-on-one.

If I’m absolutely honest here, I think he’s been a poor buy by NZR. I think his rugby league career was in decline and that rugby has offered him a soft landing.

Frankly, I don’t think it’ll be long before he ends up playing in Japan.

I get what’s good about him and I readily accept he’s a model pro who will bring a lot to a team environment. I just struggle to see him nailing down a position in the 15-man game, given his age and decade away from the code.

In earmarking Tuivasa-Sheck to play 12, I honestly believe we’re putting him in the least advantageous position possible.

Well, that’s not quite right. He could be following in Benji Marshall’s footsteps and trying to learn to play first five-eighth.

I don’t throw that name in there frivolously, either. Marshall and Tuivasa-Sheck’s games have a wee bit in common and we all saw how badly Benji struggled at the Blues.

I want to see Tuivasa-Sheck succeed and I know that I’m not alone there. He’s a man with a legion of admirers, who was capable of amazing things in the 13-man code.

But I also wrote on this site not long ago that Jordie Barrett wasn’t a bad bet at 12 for the All Blacks and I meant it. We need a physical threat in midfield and Tuivasa-Sheck doesn’t provide it.

I look forward to being proved wrong and to finding RTS can adapt to rugby and can be credible second five-eighth. I’m just not holding my breath.

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