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Pressure Points: RTS’s All Blacks expedition didn’t go as planned - now, it will be his NRL return that defines his legacy

27th November, 2023
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27th November, 2023
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Legacy is a big word in sport, and it gets bandied about a lot.

Golfers and tennis players know that, whatever they do, they get four attempts a year to create theirs.

Boxers spend careers trying to build it, then post-career media engagements talking about it.

Too often, legacy is about what you did last rather than the whole scope of your career. Fight on too long and people will forget how good you once were.

Rugby league players, generally, are a little more about the here and now, but for someone like Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, it is certainly something that will be top of mind ahead of his return to the Warriors for the 2024 season.

His return to the NRL comes off the back of a sojourn in rugby union that was, at best, mixed.

He got the All Black jersey that he had long coveted, but struggled to cement a spot in one of the toughest sports teams on earth to get into, and eventually receded to the level of a decent Super Rugby player.

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Given Super Rugby is “the most boring competition in the history of rugby union” – and that’s the words of someone who likes it – in a sport that plenty of people find really boring to start with, it’s not surprising that RTS fancied returning to a league in which he would be challenged every week.

The Warriors, under coach Andrew Webster, had their best season in over a decade and their old star walks back into a club clearly on the rise.

Tuivasa-Sheck comes back as a legend, but one that still has that legacy to play for, because as strong as his CV is, it is one that is receding into memory and fast.

He was Dally M Captain of the Year in 2020, Golden Boot in 2019 (for his work with the Kiwis) and Dally M Medallist in 2018, but the real glory years remain those with the Roosters between 2012 and 2015, when he looked like the most exciting player on the planet.

Wahs fans may be entitled to dust off the old cliché: what have you done for me recently?

Tuivasa-Sheck exited with a whimper, shunted from his best role for Reece Walsh and playing in exile in Queensland at one of the lowest points in the history of the club.

His last game at Mt Smart Stadium was the penultimate match of the 2019 season – so four and a half years ago by the time 2024 kicks off – and he has played just one finals game ever for the Warriors.

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For arguably the greatest Kiwi player of his generation, it will be a permanent mark on his legacy if his return does not go to plan.

If RTS needs inspiration, he can find it in his own dressing room.

Shaun Johnson, with whom he has played over 50 matches, was in the same boat this time last year.

Like Tuivasa-Sheck, he had burned bright at the start but, from the 2011 Grand Final season onwards, largely underwhelmed his enormous potential in the Warriors jersey while being superb for the Kiwis.

Last season’s third place finish was so impressive because it was unexpected, and a large part of the realism among Warriors fans came attached to Johnson, who many thought was past it.

Now, he will be seen forever as one of the best players the club ever had, rather than a guy who promised so much as a youngster but never quite reached the heights for the Wahs.

Roger Tuivasa-Sheck in a huddle

Roger Tuivasa-Sheck (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

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In fairness, RTS himself mentioned the weight of expectation in a recent interview with the Daily Telegraph.

“It’s fair to say that I have to prove myself all over again,” he said.

“That’s one thing that me and Webby spoke about. He’s encouraged me to come in and be that kid again.

“Be that young excited rookie and be a sponge, who is ready and willing to learn.

“That’s what I’m really excited about because I do have to prove myself.

“I’ve been absent for two years from this place and last year, watching them from afar, they’ve (Warriors) been awesome.

“So I’m excited to see first-hand what the environment is and learn again.”

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The last time the club had a lineup this strong, in 2018, they did make the finals.

Now, the pressure is on doubly strong for them to do it again, especially with the return of a favourite, if prodigal, son.

The trick for Webster will be twofold.

He has to at least match the levels of consistency found in 2023, when traditional powerhouses Souths, Parramatta and the Roosters all underperformed and opened a path for the Kiwis to come through.

Then, they have to go further, because fans were happy to be in the conversation this time, but will now enter with heightened expectations.

Arguably the area in which the Warriors fell down last year was their lack of star power.

Though the collective functioned superbly, they became a little dependent on Johnson or Addin Fonua-Blake doing something exceptional to get them over the line in games against the very best.

Against the other sides that made the finals, the Wahs went 5-9 and were 0-5 against fellow top four teams, averaging just 16 points for in the process.

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It’s clear where the issue lies, but RTS is the sort of player who can provide that spark to break down the elite defences of the NRL.

With Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad well settled in the fullback position and a perfect fit for the system, Webster will use his new man in the centres with a remit to roam, much like international teammate Joey Manu, and influence the play.

Webster has proven that he can get the best of veteran talents like Johnson – not to mention Tohu Harris, Dallin Watene-Zelezniak and Dylan Walker – and if he can work the same magic on Tuivasa-Sheck, then the only way is up for the Warriors.

Roger, however, has to go with him. His legacy as an individual is strong, but at the Warriors, the best chapter is still to be written.

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