NRL: Tuivasa-Sheck v Nicoll-Klokstad, NZ Warriors' non-existent rivalry for fullback jersey

Five weeks into the NRL season and NZ Warriors coach Andrew Webster is already rolling his eyes at the question.

Are you sure you don't want to play Roger Tuivasas-Sheck at fullback?

There's now a clock on how long it takes for the media to raise the matter at our weekly chats with Webster. This week, it was seven whole minutes.  

Undisputed incumbent - at least in Webster's eyes - Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad will make his long-awaited season debut against South Sydney Rabbitohs this weekend, rekindling comparisons between the two.

Roger Tuivasa-Sheck and Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad.
Roger Tuivasa-Sheck and Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad. Photo credit: Photosport

Will all the chat around RTS playing fullback somehow make CNK play harder?

"Charnze is so comfortable in his own skin, Roger's comfortable in his skin," assured Webster. "That's our whole identity, we want everyone to be happy and know their role, and know we've got complete belief and faith in them. 

"Charnze won't go into this game trying to prove he's better than Roger. I don't think Roger's ever trying to prove he's better than Charnze - they're just trying to be themselves.

"Charnze isn't going to play like Roger, he's going to do different things. He was almost a Golden Boot winner [International Player of the Year], so if he brings that form, we'll be happy.

"If Roger keeps bringing what he's bringing at centre, we'll be happy with that."

For every new and different way the same question is asked, Webster manages to deliver the party line without blinking. 

Charnze is our man.

In truth, the murmurs probably began the moment Tuivasa-Sheck announced his return to his home club, after a brief flirtation with rugby. Webster was adamant the fullback spot was not available and the former Dally M Medal winner would have to transfer his new midfield skills in the 13-man game.

Nicoll-Klokstad was one of the stars and a fan favourite of the Warriors' breakthrough 2023 season, when they fell one win short of their third Grand Final.

He then turned his newfound confidence to the international stage, where he inspired NZ Kiwis to a record victory over world champions Australia in the inaugural Pacific Championship final.

Remember, Nicoll-Klokstad was granted an early exit from his previous stint at the Warriors, when Tuivasa-Sheck first crossed the Tasman and took out a monopoly on his preferred jersey.

Over four seasons with Canberra Raiders, he established himself as one of the game's best, logging 67 games and helping them to three playoff series, including the 2019 Grand Final. 

It certainly hasn't helped that Nicoll-Klokstad has started the new season nursing a hamstring niggle, thrusting understudy Taine Tuaupiki into the spotlight, while Tuivasa-Sheck continued to learn his craft at centre. 

Taine Tuaupiki in action for the Warriors.
Taine Tuaupiki in action for the Warriors. Photo credit: Photosport

Tuaupiki let no-one down, but when he left the field against Canberra for a failed headcheck, fans and media got what they wanted, with RTS forced back to his previous role, at least temporarily.

His peerless performance in the No.1 jersey against Newcastle Knights has simply deepened the doubts.

The mixed feelings also haven't been helped by Nicoll-Klokstad's presence among his teammates on the training field over the past 2-3 weeks, seemingly ready to go long before now.  

"When you get an injury where you're out for eight weeks and you can't do anything for 3-4 weeks, you need to build it up," explained Webster. "You actually need lots of football, as opposed to just straightline running.

"You need to get yourself back into the team and train against first-graders, and get football miles into your legs, not just running miles. That's why we've been a little bit slower than we'd like.

"We'd love to play him in round one, but that would have been a mistake. You've always got to have one eye on not breaking players, so that's how we wanted to do it."

Tuivasa-Sheck, 30, will bring up his 200th NRL game - including 116 for the Warriors - against the Rabbitohs.

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