Roger Tuivasa-Sheck first saw the sizeable frame of Manu Vatuvei in the flesh when the New Zealand Warriors’ legend visited his old school in South Auckland.
He was overwhelmed in the classroom at Mayfield Primary in Otara although Vatuvei’s NRL career was in its infancy, and now the 20-year-old is hoping he doesn’t get taught a lesson when he marks one of his idols for the first time at Allianz Stadium on Sunday night.
The outside back concedes 14 kilograms, 11 centimetres and 143 games’ worth of experience to the Warriors’ record try-scorer but was trying to put on a brave face when quizzed on how to combat a recharged Vatuvei who appears to be running into form – and over any obstacle in his path.
Tuivasa-Sheck had to contend with Bill Tupou when the Sydney Roosters ventured to Eden Park in round two so realises he faces a different assignment defending the left edge alongside Vatuvei’s occasional Kiwis teammate Shaun Kenny-Dowall.
”I’ll have a chat with Robbo [coach Trent Robinson] and strategise. You definitely try and get two on one with him,” he said.
”They call him The Beast for a reason. He’s all muscle and power. He’ll try and use that to run over me and score tries. He’s even really powerful in the air, which is another thing I’ll have to work on.
”Shaun Johnson and [Thomas] Leuluai will be putting it up [kicks] for him. I’ve just got to get up and take them.” Thinking back to that school visit nine or so years ago, Tuivasa-Sheck confessed: ”I was star-struck at the back.”
And although he has only played 18 NRL games, the composed rookie won’t experience the same emotions when Vatuvei charges in his direction. ”I’ve been practising heaps with all our stars here,” he said, before another training session with Sonny Bill Williams, Michael Jennings and the NSW halves pairing of James Maloney and Mitchell Pearce.
”I’ve just got to go out there and do my job. It’ll probably be good to mark Manu, we’ll see. I can’t wait,” he said, with an unconvincing grin.
Tuivasa-Sheck should be smiling considering the strides he has made since former Roosters coach Brian Smith promoted him from the under-20s last year.
He made six appearances – sufficient to be anointed as captain Anthony Minichiello’s successor at fullback; this season he made the Kiwis squad for April’s Anzac Test in Canberra as a non-playing reserve and has experienced every minute of the Roosters’ 12-game campaign.
”Second year syndrome” is a common affliction for professional sportspeople after they caught opponents unaware first time up but so far Tuivasa-Sheck seems immune.
He finally recorded his first tries for the club – a hat-trick against Parramatta in round four – and has six for the season, often as the beneficiary of a Williams cut-out pass.
”He’s helped me with a few techniques, how to run my lines … he’s good at distributing the ball, he throws me those cut-outs,” he said.
Naturally there have been curve balls as well to keep Tuivasa-Sheck from getting complacent.
South Sydney’s Nathan Merritt scored three times down the Kiwi’s flank, for starters.
”I’ve been taught a few lessons. In round one Nathan Merritt … he floats around the park and then he surprises you by being back on the wing.”
Manly’s Jorge Taufua, meanwhile, was more in the Vatuvei mould: ”He’s pretty big and strong. He got over me a few times.”
Tuivasa-Sheck does just not have his game in order – off the field life is also going smoothly, especially as his parents and three siblings relocated to Sydney at Christmas.
As the Arthur Beetson Medal winner – for the Roosters’ under-20s player of the year – Tuivasa-Sheck and his mother travelled to Europe during the off-season. They went to Oxford University and recognised the set locations for the Harry Potter movies, ticked off Big Ben, rode the Millennium Wheel and crossed the Channel to see the Eiffel Tower.
The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Shanghai Night Net.