There could be further twists in Roger Tuivasa-Sheck's stunning code switch - including an earlier than expected return to the 15-man code and the All Blacks' surprise plan for the 2018 Dally M medal winner. Liam Napier reports.
Roger Tuivasa-Sheck could make his rugby union revival earlier than touted by turning out for Auckland in this year's Mitre 10 Cup provincial season, before joining the Blues in 2022.
There may also be a positional switch on the cards, with the All Blacks said to be privately hopeful Tuivasa-Sheck can progress into a quality midfield option.
Warriors captain and fullback Tuivasa-Sheck will complete this year's NRL season but he is then expected to skip the chance for a swansong with the Kiwis at the Rugby League World Cup, scheduled for October 23 to November 27 in England, in favour of fast tracking his return to the XV-man code he played through high school.
In something of a surprise move, however, the All Blacks are thought to have a desire to develop Tuivasa-Sheck into a midfield option as New Zealand's outside back stocks overflow with talent, while there is a comparative shortage of established midfielders.
Despite interest from the Highlanders and Chiefs, Tuivasa-Sheck is expected to this week complete a two-year agreement to join the Blues from 2022, with terms believed to have been reached.
Tuivasa-Sheck's deal with the Blues will include a significant third-party arrangement that sits outside the New Zealand Super Rugby salary cap.
While managing director Peter Thompson declined to comment when contacted by the Herald, Barfoot and Thompson are thought to be the leading sponsor offering to stump up for Tuivasa-Sheck's third-party payments, which could require a six-figure annual sum.
Beauden Barrett negotiated a similar arrangement when he switched from the Hurricanes to the Blues last year – his third-party deal worth $200,000 to $250,000 per-year which is still paid while he is on sabbatical in Japan this season.
One rival Super Rugby executive told the Herald the third party deals the Blues are able to offer the likes of Tuivasa-Sheck and Barrett through their corporate partners left other Kiwi clubs taking a plastic fork to war in attempting to lure elite talent.
Come 2022, the Blues will field a ridiculously stacked backline that features Barrett, Tuivasa-Sheck, Caleb Clarke and Rieko Ioane. Last year the Blues also made a major play for Hurricanes fullback Jordie Barrett, who again comes off contract following this season.
Tuivasa-Sheck is highly motivated to complete a successful transition back to rugby union which is expected to see him pull on Auckland's blue and white hoops before making his Blues debut next year.
The NRL grand final is scheduled for Sunday, October 3, while the Mitre 10 Cup window is set for September 11 until November 27. That leaves plenty of time for Tuivasa-Sheck to begin his rugby union comeback with Auckland in what should offer a more comfortable stepping stone.
Attending the Rugby League World Cup would, alternatively, involve more time away from family, and having to quarantine for two weeks on arrival home. In this scenario Tuivasa-Sheck would approach his maiden Super Rugby season cold following the Christmas break.
Tuivasa-Sheck played rugby union for Otahuhu College first XV and featured alongside fellow former Warrior Ngani Laumape and All Blacks flanker Ardie Savea in the New Zealand schools team.
Yet Tuivasa-Sheck appears to appreciate the sooner he starts his return to rugby, the smoother his transition is likely to be.
To give himself the best possible chance of fulfilling his dream of representing the All Blacks and ultimately making the 2023 World Cup squad, Tuivasa-Sheck could be playing rugby union later this year.