A time­line

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great names in New Zealand rugby league. Olsen Fili­paina went there. So too, Ali Lauiti’iti and a smat­ter­ing of Ropatis (Joe, Tea and Iva).

And it’s where, in 2011, Tuiv­asa-sheck was forced into the kind of de­ci­sion fa­mil­iar to only the most gifted; that most New Zealand of dilem­mas: rugby? Or league?

Com­pli­cat­ing the is­sue was that he was bril­liant at both. A mem­ber of the Otahuhuˉ Col­lege First XV, he went on to play for the New Zealand Sec­ondary Schools – a team that was led by cur­rent All Black Ardie Savea. But then a hor­ri­ble thing hap­pened. The rugby sea­son ended.

He laughs about it now. “My dad used to re­ally get frus­trated with me. I was play­ing First XV right up un­til the end of the sea­son. But our sea­son ended and there was a na­tional tour­na­ment for league, so I jumped in and played that.”

“Played” is one way of putting it. Be­ing the out­stand­ing player in the Otahuhuˉ Col­lege team which won the tour­na­ment is an­other. Yet in no small way, the school’s suc­cess steered Tuiv­asa-sheck away from rugby for good. “It was tough for me, be­cause my dad’s a rugby man at heart. But I just felt like ev­ery time I played league, I per­formed well.”

You can imag­ine it can’t you? Tal­ented kid. Ris­ing star. World at his feet. And smart enough to know he needed some­one to help him nav­i­gate the muddy waters and the sharks. “I needed a man­ager, so my dad went out and found [Es­portif ’s] Bruce Shar­rock. Even­tu­ally my dad was like, ‘What do you want to play? Rugby or rugby league?’ Be­cause he felt like it was get­ting to the busi­ness end and it was time for me to choose a path.

“So we had a meet­ing with Bruce, and when the ques­tion came up, I was so young and gig­gly about it and I sort of put my head down and go, ‘Oh I want to play league.’ And I looked at my dad think­ing that he’d be dis­ap­pointed, but he wasn’t. He was so happy. Happy be­cause it was my de­ci­sion.”

——— Johnny Tuiv­asa-sheck is still a per­sonal trainer and lives in Syd­ney – liv­ing in a house made pos­si­ble by his son. It’s a big house and it needs to be; home also to Roger’s mother Lisha, sis­ters Krys­tal and Shirley and lit­tle brother Johnny, a ris­ing star at the Roost­ers. That con­tract, how­ever large, is mak­ing a dif­fer­ence on both sides of the Tas­man.

Tuiv­asa-sheck knows in his heart that this year he and his team could be on the verge of some­thing truly spe­cial, some­thing War­riors fans no longer dare to even say out loud. There’s still work to do, but af­ter all those years away he’s clearly head­ing some­where. But nei­ther has he for­got­ten where he’s from. ●

“It was tough for me, be­cause my dad’s a rugby man at heart. But I just felt like ev­ery time I played league, I per­formed well.”


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