The amazing stories of a pair of rookies
WHILE one of them was running around a bare field in Fiji using clothes wrapped up in tape as a football, the other was donning a tie for school and preparing to be an All Black.
But for all their sharply contrasting backgrounds, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck and Marika Koroibete have taken just two first grade games to put their mark on the NRL and stamp themselves as future stars.
Both wingers pulled off important tackles for their respective sides, Sydney Roosters and Wests Tigers, during round 22 before performing attacking feats that players with years of experience would kill to execute.
Tuivasa-Sheck stopped Brett Morris in his tracks at Allianz Stadium on Friday night and later gathered the ball on the deck in his own in-goal before racing upfield, beating four defenders and putting Mitchell Pearce over for the try that assured the tricolours of their 26-10 win over St George Illawarra.
Koroibete flattened Parramatta half Chris Sandow in a legitimate full-bodied hit four minutes into the second half of Monday Night Football, with the Eels just ahead. By the end of the evening, the 19-year-old had scored four tries in a 51-26 pasting of the Eels.
Wests Tigers recruitment manager Warren McDonnell recalled how Koroibete was living in a village so remote that it could not be reached by road when Wests Tigers found him. He walked to school each day, played football and made a junior representative side that toured Australia.
By comparison, Sydney Roosters scout Peter O’Sullivan walked into a carnival in Auckland, saw Tuivasa-Sheck’s dancing feet, and took on the best of both rugby codes in a bidding war which the Bondi Junction club won. The clincher was taking the youngster to Coogee, where he played in an apartment block’s pool with O’Sullivan’s son.
One represents the crown jewels, the other the lost ark. But the lustre is equally dazzling.
Tuivasa-Sheck is studying at university; Koroibete is still getting the hang of English. It’s an illustration of the rich palette the game’s recruitment offers paint from, where geography, culture, religion and economic circumstances can throw up all sorts of surprises and obstacles and where 80 minutes is the only true leveller.
The Rooster was effusive and excitable when the siren sounded on Friday night. “This is my second game of NRL – still loving it, still puffing, still got that buzz,” he told me on the ABC. “I love that buzz of being out here in front of all these people.”
He then went on to describe the Pearce try in minute, colourful detail, as if he had been a Roosters supporter, watching it from the stands. “I came real nervous, real shaky like any young player, didn’t know if I could make the tackles, make the hits but it’s been good so far,” he grinned.
Asked about his eligibility, he said: “At the moment I’m a New Zealander. I’ll probably stay with Kiwis. Kiwis all the way!”
Compare that with Koroibete, so painfully shy that Wests Tigers yesterday sought and were given an exemption from the new NRL media guidelines which would otherwise have compelled him to talk to media representatives. He was given a leave pass – providing the club gives him media training during the summer.
One suspects the only media training Tuivasa-Sheck gets will be aimed at him saying less.
But the smiles on the faces of veterans Brian Smith and Tim Sheens late on Friday and Monday nights were eerily similar. While the rest of us measure success in premierships, one suspects that these two wingers from across the sea personify what job satisfaction really means for a coach.
And while young-kid-comes-good might sound like the worst type of sportswriting cliché, it never gets old when you witness it firsthand.