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Super Rugby club aside, where exactly would the All Blacks play Roger Tuivasa-Sheck?

By Hamish Bidwell
(Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

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It’s immaterial how many schoolboys Roger Tuivasa-Sheck once ran rings around.

Just as the man’s exploits in rugby league have no relevance here either.

As the All Black are currently constructed, Tuivasa-Sheck would probably be a wing and – frankly – New Zealand Rugby (NZR) needs a 28-year-old rookie wing like it needs a hole in the head.

We all assume it’s the Blues that Tuivasa-Sheck is destined for, once the upcoming NRL season is over. Is he about to get a game ahead of Caleb Clarke and Mark Telea? I’d doubt it.

He can’t play first five-eighth and fullbacks these days are often just 10s with a different number on. For much of a match, their job descriptions are similar.

And let’s not forget our penchant for playing fullbacks on the right wing, either.

So does Tuivasa-Sheck play 12, then? Does he cart the ball up like Sonny Bill Williams and offload in the tackle? Unlikely.

He’s not going to get a game at centre for the Blues, assuming Rieko Ioane is fit, so where are they actually going to put the bloke come 2022? And why would NZR have sought to sign him?

The more you think about it, the more you wonder if second five-eighth might prove Tuivasa-Sheck’s best spot. Or should that be might have been his best spot?

Had he come to rugby when he left the Sydney Roosters at the end of 2015, then perhaps a career of note could have been possible in the 15-man code.

On that score, it’s former Brisbane Broncos wings Wendell Sailor and Lote Tuqiri who come to mind. Sailor was 28 when he started in Super Rugby and Tuqiri 24 and the difference in their subsequent union careers turned out to be night and day.

Tuivasa-Sheck is a fine rugby league player, blessed with great speed off the mark and evasive skills. He reads play very well on attack and is adept at supporting line breaks through the centre of the ruck.

Since the days of Darren Lockyer, though, any fullback with demonstrable ball-playing and kicking skills has been shunted up to five-eighth. The Warriors have tried any number of players in that position in Tuivasa-Sheck’s time, but never him.

In an All Blacks’ context, regular 12s such as Anton Lienert-Brown and Ngani Laumape are neither accomplished ball-players nor kickers. The latter, in an attempt to show a range of skills, actually kicks far more than he ought to.

But both are good on their feet, back up well and are pretty sound defensively.

Could Tuivasa-Sheck do similarly? Maybe. But he’s got a huge amount of catch-up footy to play.

Laumape, for instance, turns 28 in two months’ time and came to rugby from the Warriors in 2016. Like Tuivasa-Sheck, he was a schoolboy union star, but that doesn’t mean his return to the code has been seamless.

The man still has work-ons, despite having been back in rugby for five seasons.

It would be great to think Tuivasa-Sheck could play fullback. That he had a hitherto unseen kicking game akin to Beauden Barrett’s and that the pair were going to have a ding-dong battle to be the Blues’ No.15.

More likely is that he’ll be plonked onto the wing and might work his way into midfield when – or if – he’s shown a sufficient mastery of the basics.

Again, though, any stint in 11 or 14 for the Blues would come at the expense of guys – in Clarke and Telea – with potentially greater claims to the playing time.

Tuivasa-Sheck could have been one of the great rugby league players. Had he remained at the Roosters he would be regularly ranked among the finest players in the code.

As it is, he remains an admired figure, just not a particularly successful one.

In swapping Sydney for Auckland, Tuivasa-Sheck also said goodbye to finals football. The Roosters have won two grand finals – and been to two preliminary finals – since he left, with the Warriors playing a solitary playoff game in that period.

Now we have a belated return to the code of his youth, some 10 years after he last played it.

Tuivasa-Sheck has often done amazing things on the rugby league field, but making a success of rugby union would be his most amazing trick yet.



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