It’s always a blow when an amazing rugby league player decides to switch codes, if only because it means our days watching them play the game we love are over.
But it’s hard to get to worked up over Roger Tuivasa-Sheck declaring that 2021 will be his final year in the NRL before switching to the 15-man game with the aim of playing for the All Blacks in the 2023 Rugby World Cup.
First up, this is not a case of the Warriors’ skipper being greedy. He’s currently one of the best-paid players in any of the rugby codes, on a reported $1 million a season, which is said to be significantly more than he stands to earn wherever he plies his trade next year.
In fact, according to a piece published on the NZ Herald last year, the only current All Black playing Super Rugby who cracks the mill-mark is Beauden Barrett – and his $1.07 million salary is in Kiwi bucks.
Tuivasa-Sheck isn’t going to outstrip a two-time World Rugby player of the year and World Cup winner, so he’ll be taking a haircut on the contract front.
Then we come to the year RTS had in 2020, when he led his team to the verge of an unlikely finals appearance while they lived away from their homes on the Central Coast.
RTS famously was the only player in the team whose family were unable to make it across the Tasman who didn’t call it quits early and head home – and there’s no shame in that – because he knew how important his leadership was.
His on-field work was typically high quality, averaging a massive 220.8 metres per game – second in the league only to James Tedesco – but it was the courage and leadership he showed that really elevated him in what must have been the toughest year of his career.
The Warriors are going to be based here in Australia for at least the first few months of this season, although this time it seems Roger’s family will be able to come over, yet the guarantee of being able to sleep in your own bed pretty much year-round must have been a major carrot for New Zealand Rugby to dangle after Roger had spent so much of 2020 on the road.
Essentially, who can blame him for wanting the security of being able to live with his family in his own home?
But finally, we come to the fact that Roger’s departure is because he wants to win a World Cup.
As I understand it, most kids who grow up in the Land of the Long White Cloud playing any kind of footy want to be an All Black because the All Blacks are awesome. And they have the coolest kit in sport.
But most importantly, they win.
The ‘about’ page on their website opens with a truly freakish stat: “The All Blacks are the most successful international men’s rugby side of all-time with a winning percentage of 77.41 per cent over 580 Tests (1903-2019).”
Make all the jokes you want about choking in major tournaments but winning at that rate given a sample size of that magnitude is simply unheard of.
And while consistent wins makes it bloody hard to crack the team, meaning Roger is no shoo-in to make the World Cup, the appeal of competing for a place in a winning team must be alluring for a man in the prime of his career who wants to win again.
I say “again” because RTS tasted the ultimate victory in rugby league as a fresh-faced 20-year-old winger for the Roosters, when they took out the 2013 premiership.
What would have happened if the Chooks had held onto Roger from 2016 onwards is one of rugby league’s great ‘sliding door moments’ – would he now be in possession of three premiership rings? Would he have secured more Dally M Player of the Year awards? And where would James Tedesco be?
Fun stuff to contemplate.
But ultimately Roger took the opportunity and money on offer in Auckland, where he was determined to finally make the shambolic Warriors into the powerhouse club they should be.
But during his four seasons at the club, while his own stocks have continued to rise, the Warriors have churned through four coaches and played a solitary game of finals.
This year admittedly looks brighter for the Warriors, having shown admirable starch and attacking flair last year that will hopefully be enhanced by some decent signings, but top eight would be considered a great outcome.
And Roger Tuivasa-Sheck doesn’t want to just make the finals – he wants to win!
Admittedly he could have done that with a return to the Roosters or a move to the Storm – don’t ask me about positional switches, all I know is no club would say no to signing him, even if they have a quality fullback – but a change in code offers the same opportunity for victory but with the added bonus of staying home in New Zealand.
Plus he doesn’t have to ever face up against the Warriors, a club that I suspect Roger has grown to love.
So for anyone to call Roger a traitor is wide of the mark. He’s given the club his all and now he wants to try his hand somewhere else, with the added bonus that 99.9 per cent of Warriors fans (don’t check the maths) will still support him when he pulls on a black jersey.
Not quite a win-win, because the Warriors don’t get Roger Tuivasa-Sheck leading the team out anymore, but it’s a lot better than seeing him scoring tries against them wearing a Roosters jersey.
My final say on the matter? Simply that I’m excited to see Roger at the World Cup in 2023 because he will absolutely brain it in rugby union.