How Warriors can make most of RTS' unique talents at Centre

Publish Date
Wednesday, 17 April 2024, 3:22PM

By Michael Burgess

More space, improved structure, some variety and time.

That’s the recipe for the Warriors to make the most of Roger Tuivasa-Sheck as a centre, according to former Kiwis captain Richie Barnett. Barnett is well placed to analyse Tuivasa-Sheck’s current transition.

The majority of his 26 test matches were at fullback, while he wore the No 1 jersey for the Cronulla Sharks, Sydney Roosters and the London Broncos. But the versatile Barnett also had long stints at centre across eight NRL seasons from 1994 to 2000.

Though it has divided opinion, Barnett understands what the Warriors are hoping to achieve with Tuivasa-Sheck wider in the backline.

“They’ve always wanted to have a stronger centre pairing,” Barnett told the Herald. “Rocco Berry has come of age and Roger fits that profile, after coming from a rugby background in the midfield - he could be the piece of the puzzle.”

There have been flashes from Tuivasa-Sheck - especially against the Storm in Melbourne - but Barnett feels the club is yet to maximise the opportunity he offers.

“I don’t think they have constructed enough shape [out wide] to utilise him because they have used him more as a ‘create something out of nothing’ mentality,” said Barnett, who was previously a popular Sky Television pundit and now works as partnership manager for the I Am Hope foundation.

“I’d love to see that exposed a bit more, to give him a bit of space. They haven’t quite got that right. They are using a lot of the lead runners - most of their shape is hitting a forward - and very little is going out the back door for someone like Roger or Rocco Berry. At some point, they need to find some more room for those guys.”

Barnett also believes the left-edge combination between Te Maire Martin and Tuivasa-Sheck will be key. Before last Saturday, they had played in the same team on only three occasions, all for the Kiwis and never side by side, but Barnett sees potential in their combination.

“They need to utilise Te Maire’s skill set,” he reasoned. “He is such a clever player, his subtleties and the way he plays. I hope Te Maire will take more plays on and really start to dominate that left edge, which creates a bit more in their repertoire. That will make them more of a threat.”

Ultimate success will also rely on a gradual mindset shift from Tuivasa-Sheck, after so many years as an NRL fullback.

“He is such a strong runner but he’ll need to adapt to hitting those holes and running gaps, rather than stepping out of trouble,” Barnett said.

It’s not an easy switch, especially defensively and Barnett sympathises with Tuivasa-Sheck, who was exposed at times against Canberra in Christchurch and the Sea Eagles last Saturday.

“It’s the most difficult place to defend. Especially these days, when there are so many lead runners coming at you and you have to make an adjustment in a split second.”

But Barnett backs Tuivasa-Sheck to eventually make his mark further out in the backline.

“I don’t think it is a gamble with Rog. They will give him faith about what he can do there. I’ve been under certain coaches that back you and it lifts your belief in yourself to another level. And that is exactly what [Warriors coach Andrew] Webster has done.

“Roger will put so much energy and learning into every day. Roger and Charnze [Nicoll-Klokstad] are very similar. They don’t go out. They are not party boys. They invest all their time and energy into ensuring they are at their best every game.”

Of his six matches in 2024, Tuivasa-Sheck has played only two full games at centre, as he covered fullback and wing. So there is still plenty to learn for the 30-year-old, who has put on weight and muscle since he was last in the NRL in 2021.

Barnett hopes fans are patient and doubts that Webster will backtrack on his call to play Nicoll-Klokstad at fullback and Tuivasa-Sheck at centre, even though the duo are theoretically interchangeable.

“Nine times out of 10, a coach will back a player and stick to it,” Barnett said. “I guess the pressure is on for Nicoll-Klokstad but he fronted up last year; he was exceptional, with his ability to play different styles and he adapts well to what is needed at the time.

“The Warriors have a plan. The teams that have won competitions have always had a very strong centre. They need a bit more structure and shape to allow Roger to do his thing and hopefully Te Maire and Shaun [Johnson] can execute that.”

This article was first published on and is republished here with permission

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