Down Under Diary: The All Black helping New Zealand Warriors hunt first NRL title

Roger Tuivasa-Sheck has returned from rugby union to help the Warriors hunt for their elusive maiden premiership.

THERE aren’t many players in the NRL who boast as decorated a CV as Roger Tuivasa-Sheck.

Powered by a dynamic running game that lifted the bar for what’s expected of fullbacks, the Samoa-born superstar collected almost every individual accolade on offer across his time at the Roosters and Warriors. 

‘RTS’ not only won a grand final in his first season as a permanent first grader with the Roosters in 2013, but he was named Dally M Winger of the Year for good measure. 

Shifting to the number one jumper in 2015 following the retirement of premiership captain Anthony Minichiello, he scooped the Dally M Fullback of the Year award at the first time of asking. 

When Tuivasa-Sheck crossed the Tasman in 2016, his feted homecoming was spoiled by a torn ACL suffered in round seven. 

But he took his game to a new level once he returned to form and fitness, claiming the Dally M Player of the Year accolade as well as a second Dally M fullback gong for leading the Warriors back into the finals for the first time since 2011. 

A Golden Boot followed in 2019 … then Covid-19 struck. 

While the Warriors struggled on foreign soil after border closures forced them out of their Auckland homes, Tuivasa-Sheck was recognised as the Dally M Captain of the Year for keeping his squad together under trying circumstances. 

Warriors fans then received the news they were dreading. In January 2021, RTS announced he had a signed a deal to join the New Zealand Rugby Union the following year. 

As skipper, Tuivasa-Sheck shouldered so much of the emotional burden as his team camped out across the Tasman throughout the pandemic. 

The club gave him an early mark from his contract in July, allowing him to return home to his family before the NZ government slammed the door shut on arrivals from Australia. 

Tuivasa-Sheck’s sparkling career in the 13-man game appeared to have come to an end. 

The ex-league star achieved his dream of representing the All Blacks in July 2022, playing 11 minutes off the bench against Ireland at outside centre, then had 10 minutes as a late sub in a thumping win over Australia. 

His only start came at inside centre in an experimental line-up against Japan that October — his last taste of international rugby union. 

A ticket to the 2023 Rugby World Cup was the reason behind the code switch, but a spot on the plane to France felt like a long shot. 

Sensing that, in April 2023, Tuivasa-Sheck announced he was returning to Mt Smart Stadium on a three-year deal from 2024. 

Ex-Raider Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad immediately cemented the Warriors’ number one jersey once arriving in Auckland from Canberra last year — one of the driving forces behind the NZ club’s surge up the ladder. 

With a hamstring issue sidelining Nicoll-Klokstad to begin 2024, mature-age rookie Taine Tuaupiki filled the breach, as coach Andrew Webster stuck with his pre-season plan of deploying Tuivasa-Sheck in the centres. 

In round four, though, a head knock to Tuaupiki opened the door for RTS to return to his old position. 

And in a titanic fullback battle with Knights gun Kalyn Ponga, Tuivasa-Sheck wound back the clock by racking up a game-high 283 running metres and busting eight tackles. 

While Nicoll-Klokstad will reclaim the number one jersey, that performance was a potent reminder of the value Tuivasa-Sheck brings to this Warriors line-up. 

His damaging running game won’t go to waste in the centres as the Warriors hope to mount another September tilt. 

While RTS earned a premiership ring aged 20, a second in his 30s would undoubtedly mean more. 

The Warriors, of course, have never won a title since entering the competition in 1995. 

But in their 30th season, their chances look as good as they have since making their only two deciders in 2002 and 2011. 

Their fourth-place finish last year was their equal best in 21 years. Led by rookie coach Andrew Webster, the Warriors surfed a wave of momentum, roared on by fanatical and partisan crowds. 

Their average home attendance was 22,685, bettered only by the Broncos, Dolphins and Roosters. 

The ‘Up the Wahs’ catch cry swept a country normally fixated by rugby union. The fever became so frenzied by finals time that a bookmaker set up a temporary tattoo parlour in Auckland, where fans queued up for mystery Warriors-themed pieces of ink. 

In 2024, Webster’s squad has only become stronger. 

On top of RTS, they’ve landed ex-Broncos back-rower Kurt Capewell — a 30-year-old veteran with nine Origin caps and a Penrith premiership ring to his name — plus 25-year-old Samoa international Chanel Harris-Tavita, who returns from a 12-month break from the game. 

Honest toilers Josh Curran, Bayley Sironen, Viliami Vailea and Brayden Wiliame are the only departures … although ace prop Addin Fonua-Blake’s move to Cronulla next season looms on the horizon. 

The clock is ticking on both Fonua-Blake’s exit, as well as the age of some of their best players. 

Playmaker Shaun Johnson turns 34 this September and skipper Tohu Harris is 32. Key recruits Capewell and Tuivasa-Sheck are both 30. Fonua-Blake and back-line weapons Nicoll-Klokstad and Dallin Watene-Zelezniak are all 28, while impact sub Dylan Walker is 29. 

All this feeds into a ‘now or never’ atmosphere around the Warriors in 2024. They won’t get too many better chances than this to bring the Provan-Summons Trophy across the Tasman. 

They’re part of a pack chasing the Panthers, with the Broncos, Roosters and Storm chief among them. 

The Warriors suffered a bumpy start to 2024, thanks to heartbreaking losses to the Sharks and Storm. But hard-fought home wins over the Raiders and Knights steadied the ship. 

The real question is whether they can overcome Penrith — the only way anyone is going to wrest the silverware off them. 

The Panthers mauled the New Zealanders 32-6 in last year’s qualifying final, their eighth win in a row against the Warriors. 

The last time the Kiwi club toppled Penrith? Way back in May 2019. 

Tuivasa-Sheck, captain Harris plus bench forwards Jazz Tevaga and Bunty Afoa are the only survivors five years later. 

A bunch of new faces — plus one familiar old one — will have to turn the tables if the Warriors want to reach the promised land in 2024. 

First published in Rugby League World magazine, Issue 496 (May 2024)

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