New Zealand Warriors officials are resigned to ongoing speculation over the future of captain Roger Tuivasa-Sheck but remain confident he has not yet made any decision beyond this season.
Tuivasa-Sheck is off contract at the end of the season and as Warriors CEO Cameron George recently told NRL.com, even “the local tennis club will be ringing him”.
However, a Radio New Zealand report that a deal for Tuivasa-Sheck to switch codes was all but finalised has been denied by all parties and it would seem unlikely at this stage.
The Blues could not offer him the money he would command in the NRL without a New Zealand Rugby top-up. For the NZR to do so for a player who has not played union since high school would be unprecedented – as it would for him to make the All Blacks squad for the 2019 Rugby World Cup after less than 12 months in the code.
Even Sonny Bill Williams had to learn the game at Toulon for two seasons before being offered an NZR contract to return home and play for the Crusaders ahead of the 2011 World Cup.
Benji Marshall didn’t have an NZR contract when he switched codes to play for the Blues in 2014 and did so for significantly less money than he’d been on at Wests Tigers.
New Zealand’s five Super Rugby franchises have a $NZ4.65million salary cap and are permitted to sign 32 players on contracts worth between NZ$75,000 and NZ$195,000.
A player of Tuivasa-Sheck’s profile could earn more through third-party deals but without an NZR top-up it is unlikely the code could match the $800,000 per season his current Warriors deal is reportedly worth.
Bids from rival NRL clubs are likely to drive his value higher and the Warriors have made re-signing Tuivasa-Sheck a priority.
“We are working together on that, Roger included,” George told NRL.com.
“Myself and his management started discussions well before Christmas and they have continued, even this morning when his manager informed me that it couldn’t be any further from the truth in terms of what is out there about the Blues or rugby union.
“The discussions have been positive, we are all very clear on where we stand and I have no doubt those discussions will continue in the near future.”
Although the 24-year-old’s manager Bruce Sharrock was reported to have had some contact with the Blues, he dismissed the claims Tuivasa-Sheck was poised to sign with rugby union as “absolutely baseless”.
“Roger is no further ahead in his decision making process than he was pre-Christmas,” Sharrock told the NZ Herald.
“I have 100 per cent had no discussion, formal or informal, with the Blues, around the services of Roger Tuivasa-Sheck post 2018”.
Fairfax New Zealand reported NZR sources as saying no discussions had been held and Tuivasa-Sheck would have to take a pay cut to return to the code he last played in 2011.
Coincidentally, the speculation comes amid a legal wrangle between the Warriors and NZR over 18-year-old Etene Nanai-Seturo.
Despite being contracted to the Warriors, Nanai-Seturo played for the All Blacks Sevens team last weekend and George has threatened court action against the NZR.
Given his pedigree in the 15-man game and own stated goal of one day representing the All Blacks, links to union have been frequent throughout Tuivasa-Sheck’s NRL career.
The suggestion once again gathered momentum during last year’s World Cup when Sharrock conceded that a code hop had “entered discussions” around the 24-year-old’s future.
Tuivasa-Sheck will again captain the Warriors this season, with the Kiwi franchise determined to re-sign their marquee fullback.
After signing a lucrative three-year, $2.4 million deal in 2015, Tuivasa-Sheck’s first season with the Warriors was trashed by an ACL rupture.
The Warriors underwhelming returns so far throughout Tuivasa-Sheck’s tenure has only heightened speculation he could be on the move, to rugby or elsewhere in the NRL, by season’s end.