Michael Burgess

Michael Burgess is the football and rugby league writer for the Herald on Sunday.

NRL: Auckland's rising Rooster

There have been plenty of swift rises in the NRL but few quicker than Roger Tuivasa-Sheck.

This time last year, the 19-year-old was working part time at Pak'N Save as he completed his final year at Otahuhu College. On Friday, he played his second NRL match, turning out on the right wing for the Roosters in their 26-10 win against the Dragons. In the first half, he saved a certain try with a brilliant cover tackle and later made a 60 metre break from his own in-goal to set up a try for teammate Mitchell Pearce.

At the Sydney club, Tuivasa-Sheck is seen as as a possible successor to veteran fullback Anthony Minichiello.

This is his first full season of league, having mixed both rugby codes as a schoolboy. This year was meant to be about settling into the Toyota Cup system, before perhaps moving to the big time in 2013 or 2014.

"It has all happened pretty fast," Tuivasa-Sheck told the Herald on Sunday. "But it is all about taking your opportunities. I guess I pick things up pretty quickly and adapt to whatever situation I'm in. It is all about working really hard, then listening and learning."

Tuivasa-Sheck was a wanted man at the end of last year, after starring for Otahuhu College at the national secondary schools tournament. He captained his school from fullback, as they beat perennial favourites St Paul's College in extra time in the final.

Tuivasa-Sheck, who was named in the tournament team, soon fielded offers from the Blues, the Warriors and a host of other NRL outfits.

"It was hard to turn down the Warriors," remembers Tuivasa-Sheck, "I remember thinking, 'if I go to league, it looks like the Warriors will be it'. All the boys were going there, so it was hard not to."

But the Roosters flew him to Sydney and he was impressed. He could live 10 minutes walk from the beach and they offered to arrange a place at the University of Sydney.

"It was my dad's choice as well and I knew it was a big opportunity to help out my family," says Tuivasa-Sheck, who grew up in humble surroundings in Otara.

Adapting to life in Australia - and the demands of the sport - wasn't easy. Gym visits had been irregular last year - he jokes that weight sessions were done at his supermarket job, stacking milk, bacon and cheese - but pre-season involved getting 'smashed' at training as well as heavy metal in the gym. The large metropolis of Sydney was intimidating and, even after more than a year, he still gets frustrated with constantly being lost and having to ask for directions.

Still, he took to the NYC like a duck to water, becoming a fixture at fullback in the Roosters team that is firmly in the top eight, just five points away from the table-topping Junior Warriors. He also made appearances for the Newtown Jets in the NSW Cup.

His all-round game, pace and positional sense, plus his main attacking weapon - a prodigious sidestep - has drawn comparisons with everyone from Graeme Langlands to Benji Marshall.

"My dad used to have a big step and I learnt a lot from watching him," says Tuivasa-Sheck. "I have practised it a lot and now it comes naturally to me. The next thing is knowing when to use it in a game."

Life hasn't been easy at the Roosters - they are well out of play-offs contention after a sorry run of eight losses in nine games - but Tuivasa-Sheck says everyone is "still smiling, still positive", as they focus on a positive end to the season and build for 2013. Of course next year could see Sonny Bill Williams bringing his talents to the eastern beaches.

"It would be amazing to play with him," says Tuivasa-Sheck, " Among the players, we have all been talking about it. No one is sure if he is coming - it seems a maybe/maybe not situation - but it would obviously be great to have him here."

- Herald on Sunday

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