Roger ready for Beastly battle
The Roosters' wonderfully talented Roger Tuivasa-Sheck has had to face many big decisions and challenges in the past two years, particularly opting for a rugby league career rather than the more familiar rugby union, then the Sydney Roosters over the Warriors.
On the field, the Aucklander with the nickname of 'The Dodge' knows his biggest challenge arrives on Sunday when the two NRL sides meet at Allianz Stadium and he comes face to face with 'The Beast', all 107kg of him, Manu Vatuvei.
While he grew up at Otuhuhu, a strong south-Auckland rugby league stronghold, Tuivasa-Sheck played rugby union. Yet he had many visits to Mt Eden Stadium with league-inclined schoolmates and marvelled at Vatuvei bulldozing opponents on the wing. Usually a fullback, the position he's destined to fill at the Roosters once Anthony Minichiello retires, he now has to concede 13kg to The Beast on the flank but is looking forward to the confrontation.
He missed the personal contest when the sides went head to head in Auckland in Round 2, Vatuvei absent because of an ankle injury. Now he's ready.
"I can't wait," is how the young Kiwi described his duel with the most famous Kiwi winger of his lifetime. "I keep challenging myself each week and this will be one of the biggest challenges of all.
"I was a big fan of the Warriors. And I have good memories of watching Manu smashing people on the sideline and running over people and scoring tries; and his beastly affro. He's pretty strong, has lot of power: I just have to be on my game.
"He was actually one of our community celebrities in south Auckland… everyone knew about him. And when I was in primary school he came to visit me. Then I met him in the Kiwis camp earlier this year; he's a cool person and I could see why everyone speaks highly of him."
Tuivasa-Sheck, who turned 20 just last week, had not played league until two years ago at school. He was in the Auckland Blues rugby academy squad until then and only had ambitions of becoming an All Black before he enjoyed his role in the national league tournament for Otuhuhu College, who won the championships.
He played on the wing for the Kiwis Schoolboys in rugby union that year (2011) in Australia when he had to make a call over playing for the national league side which was taking on the Aussies at the same time. Soon after he discussed his options with his family and became one of the growing numbers of his generation in New Zealand to choose league over union.
Roosters recruitment man Peter O'Sullivan left his calling card after the championships and spoke with him soon after – but the Warriors' Dean Bell was just as keen to recruit the brilliant running fullback. In the end, Tuivasa-Sheck says the Roosters' offer to help with Roger's university pathway (he is studying human movement at university), and help his father forge a career in personal training, swung him to leave Auckland. He lived by himself in Sydney for a year before his parents, two sisters and a brother joined him late in 2012.
His form this season which has seen him score six tries, break 46 tackles and make 11 line-breaks, has made him a danger man for the Warriors side he was so close to joining, as much as the powerful Vatuvei is for the Roosters.
And the battle in the air – and there are sure to be high kicks into the Tuivasa-Sheck/Vatuvei corner by both teams – will be crucial. The Beast has improved in the area that was once his weakness and Tuivasa-Sheck pulled off one of the greatest mid-air leaping tries of the season against Parramatta.
But the young Kiwi knows he is still learning from every match as week by week he builds up his frame (now 94kg after joining the club at 87kg) and body mass to make him more conducive to the constant contact in the NRL.
"The main thing I've had to work on is my strength; building my mass to be able to handle the contact and back up each week. I've been especially working on taking the contact when I'm in the air," he said.
Contact is the most common word in the Manu Vatuvei vocabulary. The Dodge knows what The Beast is going to dish out. It's just this time he'll witness it from the inside of the fence.
At the end of the day he'll look forward to shaking his hand after 80 minutes and wants one thing most of all: to have earned big Manu's respect.