NRL premiership success and New Zealand Test honours came early in hot-stepping winger Roger Tuivasa-Sheck’s career, but it was as an inspirational fullback that he developed into one of the world’s best players – becoming the first Kiwi to have won both the Dally M Medal and Golden Boot award.
Apia-born Tuivasa-Sheck was raised in Auckland and became a schoolboy star in rugby league and union for Otahuhu College. Sydney Roosters recognised his talent and lured him across the Tasman at the end of 2011. Named in the 2012 NYC Team of the Year, the 19-year-old featured in the last six games of the Roosters’ NRL campaign. He represented the Junior Kiwis and was named NZRL’s Junior Player of the Year.
Tuivasa-Sheck exploded into the consciousness of NRL fans in 2013, putting together an astonishing highlights reel on the wing for the Roosters with his electric footwork and finishing ability. After celebrating in the Roosters’ grand final triumph over Manly, the Dally M Winger of the Year was one of the stars of the 2013 Rugby League World Cup. Tuivasa-Sheck scored a try on Kiwis debut on the flank against Samoa – the first of eight tries he scored at the tournament, a tally that included a dazzling double in the epic semi-final win over England.
‘RTS’ was one of only five survivors from New Zealand’s RLWC final loss to Australia to back up for the gutsy Anzac Test defeat in May 2014. But injury ruled him out of the Kiwis’ successful Four Nations campaign at the end of year.
Tuivasa-Sheck took over from retired club legend Anthony Minichiello as the Roosters’ fullback in 2015 and immediately assumed the No.1 jersey in the Kiwis’ line-up, starring in their rousing 26-12 Anzac Test triumph in Brisbane and all three Tests on the post-season tour of England. Setting new standards for metre-eating productivity, he also collected the Dally M Fullback of the Year award.
Tuivasa-Sheck returned home to Auckland as a marquee signing for the Warriors in 2016 but suffered a season-ending knee injury in a win over the Bulldogs in Wellington, preventing him from donning the Kiwis jersey that year.
At just 23 years of age, he was incoming Warriors coach (and former Kiwis mentor) Stephen Kearney’s surprise choice to captain the club in 2017. But Tuivasa-Sheck responded by winning the first of three straight Warriors Player of the Year awards. He was a try-scorer in the last mid-season Anzac Test in Canberra, before playing in all four of New Zealand’s RLWC matches and scoring three times to set a new mark for World Cup tries by a Kiwi (11), while also collecting NZRL’s Kiwis Player of the Year honour.
Tuivasa-Sheck led the Warriors to the finals after a seven-year absence in a phenomenal 2018 campaign, becoming the club’s first Dally M Medal winner – and just the third New Zealander (after Gary Freeman and Jason Taumalolo) to collect the prestigious honour as the premiership’s best and fairest. But the Test captaincy candidate sat out New Zealand’s midyear clash with England in Denver due to the recent birth of his first child and missed the Kiwis’ end-of-year campaign courtesy of a knee injury suffered in the Warriors’ finals loss to Penrith.
While the Warriors slid down the NRL ladder, Tuivasa-Sheck’s performances in 2019 remained top-shelf. An absolute workhorse for his side, the skipper topped the competition for running metres and set a new NRL record for metres gained in a game (367), while still managing to produce his trademark game-breaking brilliance on a regular basis. He finished equal-fifth in the Dally M Medal count – first among players from teams that missed the finals.
‘RTS’ scored a try in the Kiwis’ mid-season win over Tonga at Mt Smart Stadium to take his Test tally to 14 in just 17 matches. Tuivasa-Sheck featured in New Zealand’s loss to Australia and both victories over Great Britain at the end of the year; he was particularly influential in the tough 12-8 win against the Lions at Eden Park, setting up the opening try for Jamayne Isaako with a breath-taking flick pass and coming up with several vital defensive plays in the tense dying stages.
A nominee in 2015, Tuivasa-Sheck’s excellence in the international arena was recognised via the 2019 RLIF Golden Boot award. The 26-year-old joined Hugh McGahan (1987), Stacey Jones (2002), Benji Marshall (2010) and Shaun Johnson (2014) as the only New Zealanders to collect the gong in its 28-year history, solidifying his status as an all-time Kiwis great.
Tuivasa-Sheck’s exceptional, inspirational and selfless role as the skipper of the Warriors’ Australia-based campaign in 2020 attracted universal admiration and a richly-deserved Dally M Captain of the Year award. The only New Zealander to not have his family in the Warriors’ Central Coast ‘bubble’, RTS’s on-field performances remained at the highest standard, finishing atop the NRL’s running metres leaderboard at the end of the regular season.
Tuivasa-Sheck dropped a bombshell during the 2021 pre-season, announcing a contract to join New Zealand Rugby at the end of the year. He maintained sky-high standards throughout his farewell campaign with the Warriors, however, finishing sixth in the Dally M Medal count despite playing just 17 games before returning home in July as the COVID-19 situation in Australia worsened. RTS’s early exit left him five games short of 200 in the NRL, but he passed the 100-game milestone for the Warriors and became just the second player to captain the club in a century of matches.
Signing with the Blues and Auckland, the New Zealand Rugby League great will attempt to join Sonny Bill Williams as the only player to represent both the Kiwis and the All Blacks in the past 25 years.