Roger Tuivasa-Sheck would have started on the right wing for Auckland on Saturday had their NPC match against Bay of Plenty gone ahead.
Unfortunately for the former Warriors skipper, and Auckland, New Zealand's latest Covid lockdown has put a hold on Tuivasa-Sheck's highly-anticipated return to the game he last played as a teenager.
All rugby in New Zealand has been cancelled this weekend due to the alert Level 4 restrictions, a turn of events which has not only delayed the 27-year-old's Auckland debut, but also the team's response to a poor second half in the defeat to Tasman last weekend.
Tasman, the defending champions, turned up the pressure at Trafalgar Park to win 16-11 after trailing 11-6 at halftime and Alama Ieremia's men were eager to right some wrongs after a good 35-24 win over Canterbury at Eden Park in round one.
In an interview with the Herald, Ieremia was reluctant to talk about his likely selections for Bay of Plenty but it's understood Tuivasa-Sheck would have worn the No 14 jersey with Zarn Sullivan at fullback, Salesi Rayasi on the left wing, and Solomone Kata and Bryce Heem at second-five and centre. The in-form inside back pairing of Jonathan Ruru and Harry Plummer would have likely kept their places.
It would have been a backline bursting with firepower and the envy of their NPC rivals. With wing AJ Lam injured and Caleb Clarke yet to return from sevens duty, Ieremia has an embarrassment of riches in terms of strike weapons, but unfortunately they're not even in a position to train together.
"We're in a bit of a holding pattern really. We're keeping an eye on updates and most of the team, if not everyone, has been through this before," Ieremia said.
That includes Tuivasa-Sheck, who spent all of last year's NRL season plus a large proportion of the recent one based in Australia with the Warriors due to Covid restrictions. If there is a silver lining in any of this it's that his knee niggle picked up in his last Warriors match last month should be 100 per cent once he does play.
AdvertisementAdvertise with NZME.
"He's had a lot of disruptions around Covid over the last couple of years so he's well used to last-minute changes and adversity," Ieremia said. "This is just another bump that he'll get over. Nothing really fazes him.
"He's been first class. It's well documented that he's a high-performance athlete who understands what it takes to be at that level. Obviously coming into a new environment, you can just see the traits of someone who's learning the game and going about his business in a professional way in terms of asking the right questions. He learns quickly and brings a lot of energy to the group as well. He's a humble, hard-working type of character and he has leadership all over him."
In reviewing the Tasman defeat, Ieremia said his side had learned plenty of lessons. Auckland virtually shut their rivals out in the first half but several errors allowed Tasman back in and the home side was helped enormously by a bench which included giant midfielder Levi Aumua.
"It's frustrating for us in the context of what we as a team were wanting to do; obviously get back on the horse," Ieremia said. "We had a good review and a good training and a good preview and everyone was excited about this weekend but obviously we can't control what's happened."
Asked what the review taught his side, Ieremia said: "It told us that we had opportunities to definitely finish it off. We just didn't nail it. It's not as if we were dominated in any areas. We had three chances in those last 10 minutes to get it right and we didn't and that's the game, really - critical moments."