The news last week that Roger Tuivasa-Sheck is returning to the Warriors from 2024 has a lot of fans understandably excited, myself included. But looking across social media platforms, many also appear to be needlessly worrying themselves silly about how and where he will fit in to the current squad.
For starters, this is a great signing however you look at it and given how the team are developing under Webster, the idea of RTS playing with them is mouth-watering.
A quick google search will remind you that RTS was named the club’s player of the year in three consecutive seasons – 2017, 2018 and 2019 – as well as becoming the first Vodafone Warrior to take out the Dally M Medal as the NRL’s player of the year. In his last three seasons in a struggling side, he averaged 209 metres per game. The man brings experience, leadership, a strong work ethic along with incredible mana (unlike another player I’ll discuss later). On and off the field, RTS is a sponsorship and marketing dream.
Yet some have expressed mixed feelings about RTS returning because Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad is playing rock solid at fullback, so it almost seems a bit unfair on him. But we have no idea how or where coach Webster plans on using RTS, so it really is a moot point debating it until we do.
Although… it is kinda fun. Just not on Facebook, please, for the love of God. One thing’s for sure though – the Warriors need a strike centre on that left flank to compliment Adam Pompey who is developing nicely on the other side. And either RTS or CNK would be a great fit.
Personally, I don’t know why on earth RTS would want to come back at age 30 to play fullback, requiring him to run 10km every game in one of the world’s most gruelling competitions.
Playing at centre in a Joey Manu capacity and covering fullback when required, would arguably be better for his longevity and may hold more interest and challenge for him because he’s ‘been there done that’, at fullback. However you look at it, it’s such a great dilemma for coach Webster to have. But you can probably rule out any return this season. His Rugby World Cup ambitions aside, they are very different games in terms of fitness requirements and RTS will need a pre-season under his belt before being able to perform at his best.
On top of everything already mentioned, there’s three other huge pluses about his return:
- RTS won’t have the same weight of expectation on him to single-handedly turn the club’s fortunes around.
- He won’t have to shoulder the burden of captain’s duties. He will enter a totally different environment to the one he left, and you would have to imagine an athlete of his calibre and class is going to thrive, regardless of where he plays. And that’s a fantastic thing for the Warriors and the fans.
- One great signing always brings another. With the success the team and coach are having, along with the knowledge RTS is returning, other quality players will now be looking over the fence and won’t be seeing the Warriors as an easy retirement option for their twilight years, or somewhere they can expect to be overpaid just to be there. They’ll now be viewing the club as dark horse title contenders.
So no, the question isn’t so much where RTS fits in. The question is, if RTS and CNK were to fill centre and fullback, who loses out? Because we know RTS won’t have come cheap. And with Tuapiki seen as the future at fullback, they won’t want to lose him to another club by not providing him the opportunities he needs and deserves to continue developing.
So, with Pompey continuing to cement himself at right centre, where does that leave the likes of Montoya, Williame, DWZ and Valea? I only mention Dallin WZ because he’s not exactly the cheapest winger in the NRL, so if Cameron George needed to loosen the clubs purse strings to accommodate Shaun Johnson for another season or two, he may be forced to consider showing one of these players the door.
One thing most of us can probably agree on is that it would be fair to say that with the signing of RTS, Rocco Berry has become surplus to requirements. His contract is reportedly up this season, so it would be surprising to see the Warriors offer him an extension given the depth they’ve now accumulated, and more likely to promote someone else through their development pathways.
Obviously, I’m not privy to how much salary cap space the Warriors have to play with. But the timing of RTS’ arrival is perfect because the cap increases next year, from A$9.6 million to A$11.5 million. And because the Matt Lodge ($700k) payment finishes this year, it’s understood the Warriors had already budgeted for a high profile name from 2024, so there’s potentially still room to bring in a decent signing at prop.
Of course, I have absolutely no idea what Webster will do with Brayden Wiliame or Valea – I’d be completely speculating and pissing in the wind. And you’ll have your own ideas too. But it’s fun to think about though, right? It’s just so great for the club to be in a position where fans can have these types of water cooler conversations taking place, rather than looking to next season because the current season appears done and dusted for us by Round 9, with only us die hards continuing to hope and dream till about Round 22 before accepting it’s not going to happen.
But if the Warriors do see themselves as the real deal this season, they must beat the Roosters on Sunday or the Panthers the following week. Because these are both home games for the Warriors. And along with the Storm, these sides are the benchmark. And while the Chooks might not have won an away game this season, the Warriors have an even worse statistic – they haven’t beaten the Storm, Roosters or the Panthers at all in the last 5 years.
Doing so will provide them with the self-belief that they can win should they reach the business end of the season. But if Grant Atkins is reffing either of those games, you can pretty much chalk those up as loses before the Warriors take the field.
Perhaps it’s fitting the Warriors play the Roosters on Sunday, given that’s the team they originally poached RTS from. Yet there’s another player who the Roosters grabbed from the Warriors that adds a little extra spice to this weekend’s encounter. Despite playing 14 games for the Warriors, this will be the first time Matt Lodge fronts a Warriors home crowd at Mt Smart, since last season’s acrimonious departure from the club.
It’s still unclear exactly what transpired between the Warrior’s owner and the former home invader. But I could take a swing. And if I did, I could suggest that Lodge had no intention of moving to New Zealand and was becoming a toxic presence for the players who were doing it tough away from their families and support networks. And I could suspect Robinson gave him a mouthful over it and was trying to protect the culture and his players by getting rid of him. But in doing so, he also hamstrung the Warriors salary cap. It was probably an ego driven move, albeit from a place of good intention. But I’d be guessing.
What I don’t need to guess at, is that Matt Lodge is not a man of integrity. If you want to know what the opposite of RTS looks like, look no further than Matt Lodge.
In case you are unfamiliar with the background, in 2015 Lodge was arrested and charged with assault after he threatened two German tourists, chased them into a New York apartment building, and attacked a man who attempted to help. He proceeded to break into and smash furniture in the man’s apartment, including punching a wall through the bathroom door where a nine-year-old boy was hiding, before being stopped by police. Imagine if he hadn’t been stopped.
While I completely acknowledge Lodge did well to pay his dues since, he pretty much undermined that good work by calling out Paul Gallen for a fight. It spoke volumes about Lodge’s character. He’s either dumb as pig shit at reading the room, or just a total dickhead. I’ve got a dollar each way. Because anyone who behaves like that has no genuine empathy or appreciation for the impact of their previous actions had on the victims. That’s like David Bain being acquitted for murdering his entire family and then publicly inviting the jury around for a slumber party.
But just as importantly for Warriors fans, Lodge should never have taken the full pay out for the following season, especially when he knew he wouldn’t have much trouble finding another club for his services.
It just wasn’t the honourable thing to do, particularly when this was a club that had offered him a lifeline, and had since been beaten down by Covid and 15 other NRL sides looking to win the comp. But in taking the pay out, he’s caused more damage to the Warriors club for the games he hasn’t played than any good done in the 14 games he did. It speaks more about Lodge’s character that he took the money, than Mark Robinson‘s for offering it. And I believe one day, Lodge will look back on that with a little regret – although he’s probably too stupid to know any better.
Warriors’ fans should feel entitled to give him a vocal serving when he carries the ball. I hope there’s a nice reception committee in the defensive line waiting to greet him. And should the fans manage to get a reaction from Lodge, they should enjoy having a chuckle at his expense. They’ve earned it. He hasn’t.