Roger Tuivasa-Sheck first saw the sizeable frame of Manu Vatuvei in the flesh when the New Zealand Warriors legend visited his old school in South Auckland.
He was overwhelmed in the classroom at Mayfield Primary in Otara, although Vatuvei's National Rugby League career was in its infancy. Now the 20-year-old is hoping he doesn't get taught a lesson when he marks one of his idols for the first time at the Sydney Football Stadium tonight.
The highly-rated outside back concedes 14 kilograms, 11 centimetres and 143 games worth of experience to the Warriors' record try-scorer but was trying to put on a brave face when quizzed on how to combat a recharged Vatuvei, who appears to be running into form - and over any obstacle in his path.
Tuivasa-Sheck had to contend with Bill Tupou when the Sydney Roosters ventured to Mt Smart in round two so realises he faces a different assignment defending the left edge alongside Vatuvei's occasional Kiwis team-mate Shaun Kenny-Dowall.
"I'll have a chat with Robbo [coach Trent Robinson] and strategise. You definitely try and get two on one with him," he said.
"They call him The Beast for a reason. He's all muscle and power. He'll try and use that to run over me and score tries. He's even really powerful in the air, which is another thing I'll have to work on.
"Shaun Johnson and [Thomas] Leuluai will be putting it up [kicks] for him. I've just got to get up and take them."
Thinking back to that school visit nine or so years ago, Tuivasa-Sheck confessed: "I was star struck at the back."
And although he has only played 18 NRL games, the composed rookie won't experience the same emotions when Vatuvei charges in his direction.
"I've been practising heaps with all our stars here," he said, before another training session with Sonny Bill Williams, Michael Jennings and the New South Wales halves pairing of James Maloney and Mitchell Pearce.
"I've just got to go out there and do my job.
"It'll probably be good to mark Manu, we'll see. I can't wait," he said, with an unconvincing grin.
Tuivasa-Sheck should be smiling, considering the strides he has made since former Roosters coach Brian Smith promoted him from the under-20s at the back end of last season.
He made six appearances - sufficient to be anointed as captain Anthony Minichiello's successor at fullback; this season he made the Kiwis squad for April's Anzac Test in Canberra as a non-playing reserve and has experienced every minute of the Roosters' 12-game campaign.
"Second year syndrome" is a common affliction for professional sportspeople after they caught opponents unawares first time up but, so far, Tuivasa-Sheck seems immune.
He finally recorded his first tries for the club - a hat-trick against Parramatta in round three - and has six for the season, often as the beneficiary of a Williams cut-out pass.
"He's helped me with a few techniques, how to run my lines . . . he's good at distributing the ball, he throws me those cut-outs," said the grateful recipient.
Naturally there have been curve balls as well to keep Tuivasa-Sheck from getting complacent.
South Sydney's Nathan Merritt scored three times down the Kiwi's flank, for starters.
"I've been taught a few lessons. In round one Nathan Merritt . . . he floats around the park and then he surprises you by being back on the wing."
Manly's Jorge Taufua, meanwhile, was more in the Vatuvei mould: "He's pretty big and strong. He got over me a few times."
Tuivasa-Sheck does just not have his game in order - off the field, life is also going smoothly, especially as his parents and three siblings relocated to Sydney at Christmas.
"I've been saving a lot of money off Mum's cooking. I was hopeless last year," he admitted.
He appreciates being in close proximity to Johnny, Lisah, his older sisters Krystal, Shirley and younger brother Jay Jay - although he wasn't entirely isolated since joining the Roosters.
As the Arthur Beetson medal winner - an accolade for the Roosters' under-20s player of the year - Tuivasa-Sheck and his mother travelled to Europe during the off-season for a fortnight.
He hopes to return to Britain and France 12 months on as a member of the Kiwis squad to defend the World Cup: "If I keep performing week in, week out hopefully Steve Kearney will like the way I play and choose me."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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