By WYNNE GRAY
Switching from league to rugby has not ruffled Waratahs fullback Mat Rogers and he will not be mesmerised by the reputation of some high-profile Blues opponents tomorrow night.
Rogers got his initial taste of transtasman rugby rivalry in 1993 as the New Zealand and Australian secondary schools sides faced off at Rotorua.
Adversaries that day included Christian Cullen, Pita Alatini, Carlos Spencer, Jonah Lomu, Isitola Maka, Royce Willis and Anton Oliver, and New Zealand marched to a comfortable win.
The son of league great Steve Rogers, Mat played rugby for four years at high school on the Gold Coast before changing codes to follow his father and play 11 tests for the Kangaroos.
After winning league's World Cup, Rogers chose to revive his rugby career.
That comeback started last November for the Barbarians against the Wallabies where Rogers quickly showed what an asset he would be in the Super 12.
Tomorrow night at Albany, Rogers will be one of the star attractions as the Super 12 dominates Easter for New Zealand rugby fans, and offers a mid-series chance to assess the playing merits of the feuding World Cup hosts.
Rogers will line up at fullback tomorrow against Spencer, another transplanted talent who sparked the Blues to victory in the last round.
"He [Spencer] can play. He is so talented, he cannot know what he is doing sometimes," Rogers said. "Carlos has plenty of skill and is not a small bloke either."
Rogers did not play against the Blues pre-season after his nose was smashed in the sevens circuit and his finger was damaged in a training ground accident.
But his impact has been significant in the Waratahs' unbeaten start to this year's Super 12 series. His consistent skill and four tries so far have been strong dividends for the Waratahs.
"The game is still not quite coming to me naturally, although it gets better with each training and game," Rogers said.
"My instincts are not quite there, but that is good because I do not want to be lulled into thinking this game is at all easy."
Rogers has embraced the change of codes, although his father said it was like "watching paint dry" the one time he watched the Waratahs.
"In New Zealand, rugby is the people's game and in Australia it is the corporate game," the younger Rogers said.
He has enjoyed doing more with the ball in rugby, although he said the intensity and hype of Super 12 was not as strong as the State of Origin inter-state league matches.
Union internationals would be different and his aim was to earn selection at that level.
Rugby had become more physical, like rugby league with its defensive lines and patterns, something another code shuffler, Brad Thorn, talked about to Rogers before Rogers made the switch.
Until his mobile phone was stolen last week, Rogers was in regular contact with Reds wing and former Kangaroo colleague Wendell Sailor.
The sporting conversation was about understanding the degrees of change in the codes and working out what to do in different situations.
Learning the backline calls was one drama. There might be a hundred in rugby whereas in league the game was less structured and run by the dummy half and five-eighths.
But it was a challenge to be overcome, and England's Jason Robinson had shown the way.