Roger Tuivasa-Sheck to join Sonny Bill Williams and other All Blacks greats as dual test star


Roger Tuivasa-Sheck will be following in the footsteps of some famous dual code converts when he makes his All Blacks debut.

The Blues’ 29-year-old former Kiwis and Warriors star will become the 39th man to represent New Zealand in both rugby codes.

Tuivasa-Sheck has been named in the All Blacks squad in his first season in the code – a path trodden in the past by the highest profile code hopper of recent times, Sonny Bill Williams.

BLUES

New Blues All Blacks reflect on their special news at the start of grand final week.

If Tuivasa-Sheck does take the field in 2022 he will become just the third man to play a test match for the All Blacks after first representing the Kiwis, a feat achieved by Karl Ifwersen and Williams.

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The Kiwi to All Black path has become easier since 1996 when rugby union turned professional.

Prior to that anyone accepting payment for rugby league was promptly banned from rugby union for life.

Hence, most cross-code coves went from the All Blacks to the Kiwis.

Early defectors

The "Originals" All Blacks rugby jersey worn by winger Duncan McGregor, cap and signed rugby ball.

Ross Setford/NZPA

The “Originals” All Blacks rugby jersey worn by winger Duncan McGregor, cap and signed rugby ball.

The first dual code internationals were eight members of the pioneering 1907-08 New Zealand rugby league team, dubbed the ‘All Golds’ because they were taking payment for touring Australia and Great Britain, playing under Northern Union (rugby league) rules.

Outside backs Duncan McGregor and George Smith and forward Bill Mackrell were among the most high-profile of the code-hoppers. They had toured Britain and France in 1905 with Dave Gallaher’s ‘Original’ All Blacks.

Duncan McGregor from the 1905 All Blacks later played rugby league for the Kiwis.

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Duncan McGregor from the 1905 All Blacks later played rugby league for the Kiwis.

McGregor had debuted for the All Blacks in 1903 in Australia while Smith was a superstar of New Zealand sport. He was a rugby star, a champion sprinter and an accomplished jockey.

The ‘All Golds’ were banned for life from rugby union, but that did not deter others from turning pro.

Ifwersen’s path

Karl Ifwersen held a remarkable record for 90 years – as the only man to become a Kiwis test player before earning an All Black cap.

He started out in union, playing for Auckland in 1912 before moving to league and earning a Kiwis cap in 1914.

His league test career resumed in 1919 after the First World War, and he captained the Kiwis in a three-test series against Australia in 1920.

He was reinstated by the Auckland Rugby Union in 1921 and made the All Blacks for one test at second five-eighth against the touring 1921 Springboks.

The New Zealand Rugby Union closed the door to further reinstatement from league to union at its annual meeting in 1924, blocking any hope of Ifwersen adding to his caps tally.

Two Invincibles

Which position did All Black George Nepia play?

Which position did All Black George Nepia play?

Among the sporting switchers were two of the biggest stars of the All Blacks ‘Invincibles’, series winners in Britain and France in 1924.

George Nepia was the only Invincible to play all 32 tour games. The East Coaster only played nine tests between 1924 and 1930 but is still regarded as one of the finest of All Black fullbacks. He would undoubtedly have played more but was denied a tour to South Africa in 1928 because the South Africans did not welcome Māori All Blacks.

Nepia left his farm in 1935, aged 30, joining a London rugby league club for £500. He later played for Halifax before returning home. Banned for life from rugby union, he played league in Christchurch for Hornby and in Auckland for Manukau Rovers.

Nepia had his only test for the Kiwis at fullback in 1937, kicking two goals in a 16-15 win over Australia at Carlaw Park. A New Zealand Herald match report, headlined Nepia’s Day – A Great Fullback, credited him with “saving four certain tries with his deadly tackling”.

The 1924 All Blacks Invincibles on tour in Britain. The squad features two future Kiwis rugby league internationals, George Nepia (third row, third from right) and Bert Cooke (extreme right, third row).

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The 1924 All Blacks Invincibles on tour in Britain. The squad features two future Kiwis rugby league internationals, George Nepia (third row, third from right) and Bert Cooke (extreme right, third row).

Bert Cooke was the Invincibles’ midfield maestro. He scored four tries in eight tests between 1924 and 1930 and notched 121 tries in 131 first-class matches for Auckland, Hawke’s Bay, Wairarapa and Wellington.

Cooke joined Auckland rugby league club Richmond Rovers in 1932 and was immediately selected for Auckland and the Kiwis. The 30-year-old standoff scored a try and was rated best back on the ground in his test debut against Great Britain in July 1932.

He went on to play the next two tests at centre, and captained the Kiwis to a 22-14 win and a 28-9 defeat in a two-test home series against Australia in 1935.

Post-war

Captain Jimmy Haig (R) defends at a Kiwis scrum against Great Britain in Greymouth in 1954. He was an ex-All Blacks halfback.

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Captain Jimmy Haig (R) defends at a Kiwis scrum against Great Britain in Greymouth in 1954. He was an ex-All Blacks halfback.

Jimmy Haig completed a meteoric transition from All Black halfback to Kiwis scrumhalf after the Second World War.

Scots-born Haig grew up in Otago and played the All Blacks’ first post-war tests for eight years against the Wallabies in 1946. He scored a try on debut in a 31-8 win at Carisbrook and also played inside captain Fred Allen for the 14-10 second test victory at Eden Park.

Haig – a stocky halfback with a bullet pass – was only 21 and seemed destined for a long career in the All Black jersey.

But he accepted an offer from Kiwis captain Pat Smith to work as a barman at his pub and play league for Smith’s Prebbleton club.

An obituary in The Dominion when Haig died in 1996 suggested he was motivated to switch codes when his older brother, Laurie, a talented first five-eighth suffered a knee injury that was feared would end his career. Jimmy decided that if his brother couldn’t play, he wouldn’t either and he moved to Christchurch to begin his career.

Another carrot was the Kiwis’ 1947 tour to Great Britain. Haig made the trip, which gave him a chance to visit his Scottish grandparents for the first time since emigration. His captain was his boss, Pat Smith.

Haig made his test debut against England in 1947 and went on to play 20 tests. He starred in a series win in Australia in 1953 and captained the Kiwis to a home series victory against Great Britain in 1954.

Modern movers

Forty-two years elapsed between Haig’s switch to the Kiwis, and Kurt Sherlock’s in 1989.

Sherlock, an Auckland midfielder, played three non-test games for the All Blacks in 1985 and later spent six seasons with Australian rugby league club Eastern Suburbs. His four Kiwis tests came in 1989.

But some bigger names followed Sherlock across the rugby divide.

Marc Ellis (L) and Frano Botica playing rugby for North Harbour after both earlier playing for the All Blacks and the KIwis.

Phil Walter/Getty Images

Marc Ellis (L) and Frano Botica playing rugby for North Harbour after both earlier playing for the All Blacks and the KIwis.

Frano Botica, the gifted North Harbour five-eighth, found his path to the All Blacks blocked by Grant Fox. He still played seven tests, first as a Baby Black in the 1986 win over France when Fox and other Cavaliers were suspended for their non-sanctioned tour of South Africa. He joined Wigan in 1990 where enjoyed a lot of success and became a prolific points scorer. Botica made his Kiwis test debut against France in 1991, kicking eight goals. He tallied seven tests at fullback or wing before returning to rugby union when the 15-man code turned professional in 1996.

Matthew Ridge still rates as one of the most impressive of the Kiwi code jumpers.

Matthew Ridge in his final year with the Warriors in 1999.

PHOTOSPORT

Matthew Ridge in his final year with the Warriors in 1999.

The Auckland fullback toured Europe with the All Blacks in 1989, but could not crack the test lineup due to World Cup winner John Gallagher’s presence. Ridge accepted an offer from Graham Lowe to join Manly in 1990, ironically just before Gallagher’s own rugby league move to Leeds. Catapulted straight into the Kiwis in 1990, Ridge went on to play 25 tests, scoring 168 points, including six tries.

He captained the Kiwis at the 1995 Rugby League World Cup, won a premiership grand final with Manly in 1996 and later captained the Warriors for a couple of seasons before retiring in 1991. Significantly, Ridge remained in rugby league even after rugby union went pro.

All Blacks back John Timu (R) is congratulated by Jamie Joseph after a try against England in 1993. Timu later turned out for the Kiwis.

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All Blacks back John Timu (R) is congratulated by Jamie Joseph after a try against England in 1993. Timu later turned out for the Kiwis.

John Timu, an Otago outside back chalked up 26 tests for the All Blacks and became their first-choice fullback at the 1991 World Cup. But he signed for the Canterbury Bulldogs in 1995, and like Jimmy Haig, became a Kiwi in his first season in the new code. Played a total of nine tests until 1997 when he left Australia for Super League.

Marc Ellis scores one of his six tries for the All Blacks against Japan at the 1995 Rugby World Cup before switching to the Kiwis the next year.

Phil Cole/Getty Images/Getty Images

Marc Ellis scores one of his six tries for the All Blacks against Japan at the 1995 Rugby World Cup before switching to the Kiwis the next year.

Marc Ellis played the last of his eight tests for the All Blacks at the 1995 Rugby World Cup where he scored six tries in a 145-17 romp over Japan and made his final appearance off the bench in the final defeat to the Springboks. He joined the Warriors in 1996 for two seasons, and scored two tries in five tests for the Kiwis against Papua New Guinea and Great Britain that season. Later returned to rugby union for three seasons from 1998.

Sonny Bill Williams on the burst in his last test for the All Blacks against Wales at the 2019 World Cup.

Hannah Peters/Getty Images

Sonny Bill Williams on the burst in his last test for the All Blacks against Wales at the 2019 World Cup.

Sonny Bill Williams flitted between the codes as seamlessly as he executed an offload. The Auckland rugby league junior was only 19 when he won a NRL grand final with the Bulldogs in 2004. He made his Kiwis debut that same season and was International Newcomer of the Year.

SBW seemed destined for NRL immortal status until he walked out on the Bulldogs in 2008 for a lucrative rugby union deal with French club Toulon.

Taught basics of the game by Toulon coach Tana Umaga, Williams returned New Zealand with Canterbury in 2010 and was fast-tracked into the All Blacks for the end of season tour without playing Super Rugby.

He made his test debut at centre against England at Twickenham and was part of the 2012 Rugby World Cup winning squad.

Sonny Bill Williams helped the Roosters to NRL grand final glory in 2013.

Ryan Pierse/Getty Images

Sonny Bill Williams helped the Roosters to NRL grand final glory in 2013.

League lured him back to the Roosters in 2013, in time to earn another NRL premiership winner’s medal. He also played the last five of his 12 Kiwis tests at the 2013 Rugby League World Cup, being one of the only players to stand up in a 34-2 grand final drubbing by Australia.

But it was back to rugby union in 2015, just in time to nail a place for the All Blacks’ World Cup title defence.

Williams stayed in the 15-man game through to the 2019 World Cup where he played his 58th and final test in the bronze medal win over Wales.

He accepted a reported $10 million two-year deal with Canada’s Super League side Toronto Wolfpack in 2020, but played just five games before the Wolfpack went belly-up after financial pressures caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Williams returned to the NRL with the Roosters for five final appearances in 2020 before injuries forced him to quit the football field and focus on pro boxing.

Latest

Matt Duffie pictured at an All Blacks training session in London in 2017.

David Rogers/Getty Images

Matt Duffie pictured at an All Blacks training session in London in 2017.

Matt Duffie, a Melbourne Storm wing, had one test for the Kiwis in 2011, scoring a try in a 20-10 loss to Australia on the Gold Coast. Two knee reconstructions slowed his NRL progress, and Duffie moved home to Auckland to play rugby for the Blues in 2016. He was selected for the All Blacks’ northern tour in 2017, playing two game without making a test appearance. Duffie played out his rugby union career in Japan before retiring last month, aged 31.

He was the last to play for both the All Blacks and the Kiwis, but Tuivasa-Sheck is almost certain to be the next.

Dual All Blacks-Kiwis

(Years of their respective debuts in brackets)

Albert Asher (1903/1910).

Frano Botica (1986/1991).

Alphonsus Carroll (1920/1926).

Bert Cooke (1924/1932).

Tom Cross (1904/1907).

Matt Duffie* (2011/2017).

Marc Ellis (1993/1996).

Dave Evans (1910/1912).

Arthur Francis (1905/11).

Charlie Fitzgerald (1922/1924).

George Gillett (1905/1911).

Jimmy Haig (1946/1947).

Harold Hayward (1905/1912).

Jack Hogan (1907/1913).

Ned Hughes (1907/1911).

Karl Ifwersen* (1913/1921).

Massa Johnston (1905/1907).

Herb Lilburne (1928/1935).

Dougie McGregor (1913/1919).

Duncan McGregor (1903/1907).

Bill Mackrell (1906/1907).

Hawea Mataira (1934/1939).

Harold Milliken (1938/1939).

Billy Mitchell (1910/1911).

George Nepia (1924/1935).

Jim O’Brien (1922/1924).

Lou Petersen (1921/1924).

Matthew Ridge (1989/1990).

Kurt Sherlock (1985/1989).

George Spencer (1905/1909).

John Spencer (1907/1909).

George Smith (1905/1907).

Dave Solomon (1935/1939).

John Timu (1991/1995).

Herbert (Jum) Turtill (1905/07).

Eric Watkins (1905/1907).

Sonny Bill Williams* (2004/2010).

Edgar Wrigley (1905/1907).

* denotes players who represented the Kiwis before the All Blacks. The Remainder were All Blacks, then Kiwis.

NB: Not all players on the list played test matches, but were national representatives in both codes.

DID YOU KNOW? The Spencer brothers, George and John, who played in the first decade of the 20th century, are the only brothers to have been both All Blacks and Kiwis.

Sources: Stuff files, Papers Past, Wikipedia, NZ Rugby Museum website; The Kiwis: 100 years of International Rugby League.



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