While Roger Tuivasa-Sheck is nominally still a member of the Roosters, all eyes are now turned to 2016, with speculation mounting as to how he’ll fit into the Warriors squad when he returns home next year. Some are suggesting that, along with Shaun Johnson and Issac Luke, we might be looking at the rise of a new threesome along the lines of Smith, Cronk and Slater. While there may be some exaggeration in that, it’s certainly fair to say that all three of these players are yet to fulfil their full potential within the NRL, even if they’ve already accomplished a great deal already – or, in the case of Johnson, accomplished a great deal on the international stage. RTS, in particular, feels as if he’s just on the verge of breaking into the NRL stratosphere, spearheading the Roosters mad dash to the finals this year with a record-breaking running game that seemed to change the very definition of what a fullback could be.
For that very reason, though, you have to wonder whether it’s the right time for RTS to leave the Roosters. After all, he’s only been at fullback for a year, while the synergy with Sydney seems to have created the optimal environment for him to flourish – and to explore his own version of what the position can be – especially as the Warriors don’t tend to rely on the mobile front pack that has allowed RTS to amp up his running game with the Chooks. At the same time, the Roosters took a considerable chance with RTS, with Anthony Minichiello taking RTS under his wing and then making a point of handing on the baton to him when he retired, despite the fact that Blake Ferguson – an experienced halfback and Origin representative – was there to take over the position. While RTS needs to do what’s best for his career – and has been open and respectful about the whole process – it must have come as a bit of a shock to an outfit that had spent four years cultivating him as club custodian. While every player is important, the fullback is the heart and soul of the team, and seeing RTS depart this year will just make the gap left by Minichiello feel even greater.
Of course, switching teams may also be what RTS needs to consolidate his career at this point as well. While Sydney has worked wonders for him, he’s made no secret of the fact that New Zealand is where his heart belongs. Similarly, it’s clear that RTS is made for Rugby Union as much as Rugby League – his mobility and deftness often seems to turn League into Union before your very eyes – and it may be that a return to Auckland helps him in his dream of playing for the All Blacks at some point. In fact, the last time he was based in New Zealand he was stabled with the New Zealand Schoolboys Rugby Union team, before heading to the Roosters in 2011, while it appears that he was also genuinely considering a code switch before signing with the Warriors as well. Add to that the fact that his part of his family will apparently still be living in Sydney and there may be just enough continuity for RTS to thrive while exploring his talents in a fresh and invigorating environment.
Whether at the Roosters or with the Warriors, though, you can be sure RTS will be dynamo to watch. In fact, he’s the kind of player who could conceivably attract a wider audience to the game. While the rules of Rugby League are not as esoteric as those of, say, NFL, it can sometimes be difficult for an outsider, or the occasional observer, to really enjoy great moments of football genius. Tuivasa-Sheck’s talents, however, are great spectacles even for those who don’t know much about the rules, since they basically involve one guy dodging and weaving his way through a pack against all odds, while choreographing a Steeden in the process. More than any other young gun in the game at the moment, RTS has amassed a huge YouTube following, with play after play uploaded and rewatched by a fanbase that seems to go beyond the game – people who are interested in the sheer physical feat and logistical ingenuity of his approach more than the specificities of Rugby League itself. At his strongest, watching him is like being present at a real-time, high-stakes magic show, as the NRL’s consummate escape artist somehow finds a way, time and time again, to get out of even the tightest scrapes that the opposition managed to think up for him. Outrunning every player in sight, he bursts into flight when he finally dives at the try line, as the sturdiest legs in League suddenly become springboards for some of the most balletic aerial performances you’re likely to see in the game.
So where does all that ingenuity come from? Is there any underlying method? In interviews, RTS has said that it all comes down to instinct, which makes sense – it’s hard to think that you could ever preplan or predict those kinds of moves. In fact, Trent Robinson and his teammates have said that even they can’t quite figure out or control what he’s going to do on the field. Sometimes the best way to manage a player is to just let them do their thing, and to his credit Robinson seems to have given RTS that latitude, allowing him to approach the sport like an artist, which is perhaps why he’s managed to remake the sport in his own image – or at least the responsibilities of fullback – in such a dramatic way. And while the Warriors have a bit of a reputation for swallowing talents rather than really facilitating them, reviving Auckland may be Tuivasa-Sheck’s greatest achievement yet – an exciting prospect for all those NRL fans stationed across the Tasman.