Centre or Fullback? Where Warriors plan to play RTS

Publish Date
Tuesday, 2 April 2024, 8:38AM

By Michael Burgess

Warriors’ coach Andrew Webster acknowledged that Roger Tuivasa-Sheck was superb at fullback in the 20-12 win over Newcastle on Sunday evening – but it won’t sway his thinking on positional plans for the rest of the season.

And neither should it, given Webster has been clear about Tuivasa-Sheck’s destination since last late year, when he signalled that the returning All Black was going to be converted into a centre.

But his round four display at Mt Smart will add to the debate, which has consumed so much media and public attention. Apart from one dropped ball just before halftime – with the Knights scoring a few plays later – the 30-year-old didn’t put a foot wrong, in his first start at fullback since July 2021.

He managed a remarkable 29 carries, for 283m, with a couple of trademark sidestepping runs that had punters on their feet. He organised the defence well and was alert enough to make some crucial interventions, just when the Knights were looking dangerous.

“He was really good, glimpses of really good stuff,” Webster said. “Talking to Rog I thought he learnt plenty. He feels the NRL is a different beast from when he left it. He hasn’t had a lot of reps at fullback, we have been concentrating on centre so I was proud.

“The things I knew Roger would be good at, he was good at. Kick returns, momentum, carrying the ball in the middle of the field. Everyone thinks fullback is about highlights plays but it’s about where you put yourself defensively, it’s how thick you make the defensive line look ... fullback play has come a long way.”

Tuivasa-Sheck came up with the most important defensive moment of the night, batting down a pass when faced with a three on one situation in the final minutes, with the Knights storming home.

“That was huge,” captain Tohu Harris said. “They threw everything at us and came up with a few opportunities and in those moments you just have to find a way to stop them.”

But there will be no U-turn on the agreed strategy, with Webster saying Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad is “definitely” back at fullback next Saturday, assuming he is fit to play.

Of greater concern is the fate of Luke Metcalf, who was sent to hospital at halftime with a lower leg injury, after an awkward collision early in the match.

“It could be a fracture, we are not sure,” Webster said.

It looked bad, likely to mean a prolonged spell on the sidelines for the 23-year-old, who was coming off his best pre-season. It might be an unenviable repeat for the club, bringing back memories of Te Maire Martin’s lower leg fracture against the same opposition in April last year.

While Webster believed the Warriors were still nowhere near top gear, he was pleased with the defensive resilience, especially on their own line.

“We scrambled really well on the back of some errors and line breaks, if you concede one try in each half you are going to go a long way.”

The coach also felt it was a step up in terms of composure – even if the attack was clunky – and lauded their ability to dominate the arm wrestle for long periods in the second half.

However, the post-match questions eventually circled back to Tuivasa-Sheck, in a week where he is set to make his 200th NRL appearance.

“It’s good noise,” said Webster, when asked by the Herald if he was tired of the constant focus on Tuivasa-Sheck’s position. “Roger brings that because we all know what he has done in the game. I laugh about it; I make jokes about it but I am not sick of it. It can keep coming.”

But Webster emphasised it wasn’t a unilateral plan, rather a joint agreement.

“That’s how we want to go, that’s how Roger wants to go,” he explained. “It’s not like you have Roger coming to me saying, ‘boss, why aren’t I playing fullback?’ He wants to win, he wants to play his role. The questions can keep coming, I get it, he is an elite player. [But] Charnze was that close to [international] golden boot last year and he is coming back into the team. I don’t think anyone was upset with the way Taine [Tuaupiki] played; he was exceptional.

“If Roger’s whole focus in pre-season was train at fullback and play at fullback, he would be a superstar. But his role here is to play centre. We are trying to put the best 17 players on to win a competition. It’s a lot of hard work to do that and we need a whole squad, not individuals.”

Webster added that Tuivasa-Sheck had bought in from the start.

“The day he signed, he said ‘I want to play in this position for this club. I don’t want to disrupt Charnze and what he is doing. I don’t want to disrupt the club. I want to win a competition’.”

This article was first published on nzherald.co.nz and is republished here with permission

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