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The cross-code stars who helped Roger Tuivasa-Sheck's Blues move

By Alex McLeod
(Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

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Blues star Roger Tuivasa-Sheck has revealed how a handful of current and former cross-code stars helped initiate his own move from rugby league to rugby union last year.

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Speaking to media at his inaugural press conference as a Blues player on Thursday, Tuivasa-Sheck opened up about how three ex-NRL players, who forged their own paths in union, influenced him to make the jump between codes.

That trio – Sonny Bill Williams, Ngani Laumape and Matt Duffie – all became All Blacks after switching to union, and Tuivasa-Sheck told reporters that he reached out to all three players for advice in the years preceding his move to the Blues.

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The 2018 Dally M Medallist said his conversations with Williams, Laumape and Duffie opened his eyes to the differences in pre-season training between union and league, which he labelled as a key factor behind his decision to switch codes.

“I remember a few years ago I was pondering the idea [of playing union],” Tuivasa-Sheck said.

“I spoke to players like Ngani Laumape, Matt Duffie and Sonny of course. I think the one thing that came back from them was they just love the pre-season and loved the breaks that they were getting compared to league. That was sort of the big difference.

“For me, it was just about trying to make sure it all lined up with what my goals were and what was best for the family. I’m glad I made the decision and I’m here now.”

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Williams, Laumape and Duffie weren’t the only players Tuivasa-Sheck consulted about the move, as the 28-year-old revealed he held discussions with ex-All Blacks captain and former Blues coach Tana Umaga about the adjustment from league to union.

Umaga is no stranger to the differences between the two codes, having represented New Zealand in league at age-grade level before signing with the Newcastle Knights as an 18-year-old in 1991.

However, the 48-year-old returned to New Zealand three weeks later and went on to make 74 test appearances for the All Blacks in an international career lasting from 1997 to 2005.

Tuivasa-Sheck said Umaga’s experience as a midfielder has proven to be useful as he attempts to transition to union as a second-five, with Blues boss Leon MacDonald outlining his intention to play his big-name recruit in the No 12 jersey this year.

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“Definitely have reached out to a few people, but, more so, I’ve been talking to someone like Tana,” the 2013 NRL Premiership winner said.

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“Once I got told that I’d be looking to play midfield, I kind of reached out more to Tana and tried to pick his brains.

“I don’t think there’s anyone better than Tana there, and, especially defensively, having someone like that to fall back to and always ask questions.”

Of his current teammates, Tuivasa-Sheck said he is yet to speak to star playmaker Beauden Barrett, who is still on extended leave following last year’s All Blacks season.

“I haven’t spent much time. I think he’s been busy with his campaign with the ABs and now he’s enjoying his break. You’ve got to allow that. I think there’s a lot more things that I can work on while I’m here.”

He has spent plenty of time with five-test All Blacks wing Caleb Clarke, though, with the pair seen on social media training alongside each other throughout the off-season.

Clarke spoke highly of his training sessions with Tuivasa-Sheck earlier this week, and the latter returned the favour when asked about his training sessions with the youngster.

“Yeah I’d kind of seen Caleb training on his own through Instagram and I sort of reached out,” Tuivasa-Sheck said.

“All the boys were at the NPC time and I was back home not doing much and I could see Caleb was back from sevens, so I reached out and how could I compare his training to rugby?

“It’s been fun working with him and definitely learning a lot off Caleb and sort of what it takes.”

Tuivasa-Sheck is in line to make his first union appearance when the Blues host the Hurricanes in a pre-season fixture in Takapuna next weekend.

The Blues are then scheduled to kick their season off against cross-town rivals Moana Pasifika at Mt Smart Stadium in Auckland a fortnight later on February 18.

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