The Warriors have been rocked by the devastating news that pin-up fullback recruit Roger Tuivasa-Sheck is gone for the rest of 2016.
The brilliant 22-year-old, who arrived at the club from Sydney Roosters during the off-season, ruptured the ACL in his left knee during Saturday’s victory over Canterbury in Wellington.
The New Zealand Test No.1 played 84 of a possible 87 games for the Roosters since debuting late in 2012, but now faces the prospect of a six-month recovery from a knee reconstruction. Tuivasa-Sheck reeled out of a fairly innocuous looking tackle early in the first half against the Bulldogs, but played on for another five minutes before hobbling off.
— 7 News Sydney (@7NewsSydney) April 18, 2016
Coach Andrew McFadden summed up the mood in Auckland after the diagnosis came in.
“Roger is absolutely shattered and so is everyone around the club,” McFadden told Warriors media.
“We had huge expectations about what he would bring to us this season and he was so excited about the role he had to play. He had settled in well developing his combinations and timing but now this. It’s the cruel side of football – we’ve certainly had more than our share of bad luck
“Roger will have surgery in about three weeks and faces a long recovery but we’ll make sure he has plenty of support and care around him.”
The show must go on, however, and the Warriors are better equipped with back-up custodian options than most clubs. The in-form Tuimoala Lolohea, moved from the wing to five-eighth ahead of the Bulldogs clash, produced a match-winning display deputising for the injured Tuivasa-Sheck, scoring a solo try and having a crucial hand in another.
— ONE News – Sport (@ONENewsSport) April 16, 2016
Lolohea also started 11 games at fullback in 2015 as Englishman Sam Tomkins battle a string of injury problems.
David Fusitu’a, who made a tryscoring return to first grade last week, has a bit of lower-grade experience at fullback, while utility-back Henare Wells is currently wearing the No.1 for the NSW Cup side.
But McFadden’s greatest conundrum may be who to slot into the halves alongside Shaun Johnson. Jeff Robson, dumped last week after being persevered with for the first six rounds, seems an obvious option – but he was demoted for a reason, and the Warriors looked far smoother in attack without the snail-paced veteran.
Thomas Leuluai, only back in the team for two weeks after almost a year out following a knee reconstruction of his own, jumped into five-eighth when Tuivasa-Sheck went off and is vastly experienced in the No.6. Youngsters Jazz Tevaga and Nathaniel Roache are more than capable of handling the bench utility role earmarked for Leuluai.
NSW Cup halves Mason Lino and Ata Hingano – the latter earning some huge wraps in the second-tier comp despite still being eligible for NYC – are definite halves options, while Under-20s playmaker Erin Clark could yet come from the clouds.
RTS’s terrible injury blow also creates a headache for Kiwis coach Stephen Kearney. Tuivasa-Sheck was one of his country’s best in the Anzac Test victory and the series loss in England last year.
— NZ Rugby League (@NZRL_Kiwis) April 18, 2016
Lolohea, who made his Test debut at halfback during the England series, would seem a frontline contender. Peta Hiku was superb in the No.1 during the Kiwis’ triumphant 2014 Four Nations campaign – which Tuivasa-Sheck missed through injury – but plays centre for Penrith and had just two games at fullback for Manly last year.
Another Panther, Dallin Watene-Zelezniak, is in line for a Test debut on the wing and has first-grade experience at fullback, but Kearney is unlikely to toss the uncapped youngster into such a high-pressure role.
Brisbane winger Jordan Kahu, Canterbury winger Curtis Rona, in-form Bulldogs veteran and long-serving Kiwis winger Sam Perrett, Canberra winger Jordan Rapana, and Gold Coast centre Josh Hoffman – who played five Tests at fullback during 2012-13 – are the other custodian options at Kearney’s disposal.
The impact of Tuivasa-Sheck’s crushing setback on the Warriors and the Kiwis can’t be undersold, but both outfits will be determined not to let it derail their respective 2016 ambitions. The strong replacement options available, along with the galvanising effect playing for a fallen comrade can often have on a team, ensures neither side can be written off.
— FOX SPORTS NRL (@FOXNRLLive) April 18, 2016