Matt Encarnacion, NRL.com
Twelve months ago, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck rocked up in France as the shy teenager he’s always been. This week, however, he arrived as a fully-fledged Test player he was always going to be.
As reward for taking out the Roosters’ Rookie of the Year award last season, the club flew Tuivasa-Sheck and his mother for their first ever trip to Europe.
“We did a lot of day tours, first in London and then in Paris, with other small places in between. So you could say I’m something of a local,” Tuivasa-Sheck joked to NRL.com.
“But it’s weird. Some of the boys knew that I came here last year. But now I’m here again, it’s like I’ve never been here before. Every place is different when you’re in camp.
“If you told me last year that I’d be playing for the Kiwis right now, I’d think you were trying to play a trick on me or something. I wouldn’t have believed you.”
Yet here he is now, lining up for the current world champions as both the Dally M Winger of the Year and a premiership winner.
It’s certainly been a stunning ascension for the 20-year-old who was also part of the New Zealand squad that lost to the Kangaroos in April, an experience he says has helped his transition into the international arena.
“I came into the team knowing a bit more of the structure and how [coach] Stephen Kearney likes to play. That made it easier,” the Samoan-born winger says.
“And most of the boys who played that Test are here as well, so it’s good to get back with the same group. It’s made me be a bit more open and confident.
“The last 12 months have been hard work, real busy. But everything’s just clicking and going in the right way. My teams have been going well, and just to make it this far has been unbelievable. It’s like a dream come true to me. I’ve just got to keep going in the right direction.”
With the experienced Jason Nightingale also in the squad, the 20-year-old was somewhat of a surprise inclusion in Stephen Kearney’s line-up for their tournament-opening win over Samoa.
But, like the air-walking winger he’s shown the world to be, Tuivasa-Sheck passed his first Test with flying colours, scoring a try, setting up another and totalling 100m in his international debut.
“I was surprised, big time. I knew Jason Nightingale and Manu Vatuvei were in the team and that I was just happy enough to be here to support them if one of them goes down,” Tuivasa-Sheck says.
“But when Stephen Kearney gave me the nod, I was just real blown away and then straight on the phone to the family.
“The first game was everything I expected it to be. It was physically hard, it was fast, and another step up. It was just like another grand final.”
Only now there’s no time to keep flying on cloud nine. The Kiwis’ poor second half against the Samoans proved there is still plenty of improvement left to make if they are to successfully defend their crown.
“There’s massive talent in the squad, but the structure that Stephen Kearney and Ivan Cleary have for us, we’re slowly building to perfect it,” he says.
“Everyone looked alright in the Samoa game, but we have to build off that.”