Roger Tuivasa-Sheck fought to hold back tears on Monday as he told his Warriors teammates his NRL career had come to an early end due to COVID-19 travel regulations.
Tuivasa-Sheck has played his last game for the club – a 14-minute stint that was ended due to a head knock against Penrith two weeks ago – as he rushes home to beat the closure of the trans-Tasman travel bubble.
The Warriors skipper was already rugby union-bound at the end of 2021, having been granted a release by the Warriors to take up a deal with the Auckland Blues and target an All Blacks berth.
His exit has now been fast-tracked by the New Zealand government's decision to pause travel across the ditch for at least the next eight weeks.
The Warriors are unsure when their players will be able to return home, with mid-September their best-case scenario, but CEO Cameron George said there was the potential for their homecoming not happening until December.
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Given Tuivasa-Sheck is due to start his rugby union career in November and coach Nathan Brown conceded the finals are a long shot with six games to go in the regular season, the club agreed to an early release from the final three months of his contract.
Tuivasa-Sheck has been widely credited as the glue that has held the Warriors squad together throughout the pandemic and multiple relocations, with his announcement to teammates on Monday an emotional one.
"It was tough holding it all back," Tuivasa-Sheck said.
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"I'm pretty sure they were quite disappointed and I although they're supportive that I get to chase a new challenge and dream of mine, it was tough to hold back the tears.
"It was a really tough decision. I was trying to get my family back over here to Australia to be locked down here for eight weeks [to finish the season].
"But unfortunately I wasn't too sure when we were going to return home and that's when it became an issue.
"It's a sad way to end my time at the club, especially when my last game was with concussion and not being able to play in front of all our fans back at Mt Smart.
"It is a sad way to [end] but I'm just grateful to have the club supporting me along the way."
Tuviasa-Sheck will fly home on Thursday and miss the chance of a farewell send-off in Friday's clash with the Wests Tigers at Suncorp Stadium.
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His departure frees up a roster spot ahead of the August 2 mid-season transfer deadline, though George said the club would be filling out its top 30 from within rather than at market.
Tuivasa-Sheck's release from the final three months of his estimated $1 million deal will amount to around $250,000 of added salary cap room for the Warriors, which they can frontload 2022 contracts with.
Roosters star Joey Manu has already been flagged as a recruitment target beyond November 1 if the Tricolours can't tie him up beforehand.
While Reece Walsh has been groomed as Tuivasa-Sheck's No.1 protégé this season, Manu shapes as a potential five-eighth or centre prospect with the Warriors prepared to go all out for the New Zealand Test regular.
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Tuivasa-Sheck's influence since arriving at the club in 2016 and playing 111 games cannot be overstated, especially as captain throughout a nomadic existence over the past two seasons.
"I'm so proud of Cam, our board and our leaders of the club to survive everything that's been thrown our way," he said.
"We've been tossed a lot of things. We're still here today, we're still here playing footy and trying our best."
Tuivasa-Sheck's NRL career wraps up after 195 games in total.
It's a sad way to end my time at the club.Roger Tuivasa-Sheck
He first arrived at the Roosters as a 17-year-old and initially stayed with talent scout Peter O'Sullivan and his family, including current teammate Sean, when he first landed in Sydney.
By the time he was 20 Tuivasa-Sheck was a 2013 premiership-winner and Dally M winger of the year under Trent Robinson.
He returned to his native New Zealand on a big-money deal in 2015, claiming the 2018 Dally M medal as he helped deliver their first finals appearance in seven seasons, and then the Golden Boot a year later.
George described the call to release Tuivasa-Sheck as "one of the toughest" he has made in four years at the club.
"He has led us through the toughest times in the club's history and this is the one way we can repay him," George said.
"There are no problems between us and Roger.
"And it's about us finding any solution in this really challenging time.
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"He was there when I first stepped in and he's been there all the way since.
"And to do what we've done together over the last couple of years, it demonstrates the solidarity and the relationships we have.
"Every time I've picked up the phone to this bloke he's been there and vice versa.
"For me it's an emotional one. One that was easy to make because it's about Roger and his family and it was for the right reasons.
"It's without doubt one of the toughest calls and conversations I've had to have."