At 25-years-old Matt Moylan was handed the Penrith Panthers captaincy. Moylan burst into the NRL as a super classy fullback, the sort of player who makes NRL footy look bloody easy, far too easy, to such an extent that Moylan seems to have made the Darren Lockyer switch from fullback to the halves. A switch that many fullbacks struggle to execute.
Unfortunately for Moylan, the burden of captaincy - and other stuff - has taken its toll. The weight of captaining a club like Penrith that covers a huge space out west of Sydney comes with some rather hefty responsibility given the corporate weight of the Panthers. Captaining Penrith Panthers not only means that Moylan was tasked with leading a young playing group, he also had to take on all the media duties as well as keeping sponsors, etc. happy as the face of the club.
Penrith Panthers are a Sydney club, but they are out on their own with an impressive junior based that spans from the fringe of Sydney, all the way west to Bathurst. Somewhat similar to Aotearoa Warriors then right? Sort of, but when you consider that Roger Tuivasa-Sheck is also a young lad, also an extremely talented fullback who took on the captaincy, the similarities are obvious.
Moylan is currently MIA for Penrith Panthers and won't be their skipper during the NRL Finals.
This is a murky, complex situation that many can speculate about, however we can narrow it down to Moylan not quite responding to captaincy as many would have hoped. There's no right or wrong here, Moylan's situation simply shows how crazy life can be as an NRL skipper and when you get the captaincy under the age of 25/26yrs, the mayhem can be amplified.
Imagine the weight on Tuivasa-Sheck's shoulders then. All you have to do is ponder the irresponsible silliness of Aotearoa's rugby-loving media, crazy fans who can't see any positives in signing Adam Blair and Australian 'experts' who still churn out the 'big Warriors forward pack' yarn. Some is justified, a lot is not. Regardless, it all falls on a young uso's shoulders.
The external pressure is enough, add on top of that how Tuivasa-Sheck endured a season-ending knee injury last season and I wouldn't be surprised if Tuivasa-Sheck has battled mental demons in the past 18 months. Tuivasa-Sheck was a high-profile recruit, returning to Auckland where he grew up and the majority of his first season is scratched due to injury. Then he's made captain by Stephen Kearney and Tuivasa-Sheck has to deal with the Warriors struggles, struggles that I happily put in the 'short-term pain' basket - the long-term gain is coming.
All along we've heard about a horrible Warriors culture. I don't believe that this stems from the Polynesian playing base of the Warriors, however I'm fairly confident in highlighting the perception of many kiwis that there is a correlation between a detrimental culture at Mt Smart and the Polynesian presence.
I highlight this because it's obviously wrong and that low key racism in Aotearoa needs to be discussed, but I hear it throughout the media, throughout feedback for our Warriors coverage. Tuivasa-Sheck came to the Warriors from the Roosters, where professionalism included raw meat diets and what not. This means that Tuivasa-Sheck was brought to the club to lead a change in whatever 'culture' issues there were at Mt Smart and as a young kiwi-Samoan man, Tuivasa-Sheck throws poo in the face of the very idea that there is a relationship between a losing culture and the ethnic background of the majority of Warriors players.
This issue can instead be viewed as players growing up in a comfort zone and then becoming professional athletes within that comfort zone. Tuivasa-Sheck left Otahuhu College and went straight to the Roosters, straight out of his comfort zone and where he flourished (like many other young kiwi/Polynesians). Now the Warriors get to enjoy the benefits of Tuivasa-Sheck's experience with the Roosters.
As the winds of change sweep through Mt Smart, I can't think of a better individual to lead the Warriors into a new era. Tuivasa-Sheck is not only a leader in terms of being awesome at this footy thing and displaying leadership qualities, he is someone who young Warriors from all walks of life can look up to, because like them he's come from where they have come from.
Being a young kiwi-Samoan man, Tuivasa-Sheck is the idol role-model for the Warriors and on top of that, Tuivasa-Sheck has been exposed to pure excellence (Premiership winning excellence) that other Warriors haven't; why wasn't Shaun Johnson made captain?
Of course, your first year with the captaincy as a 24-year-old is going to be tough, let alone when you've got all the pressures listed above hounding you. Earlier in the season many people noted the lack of leadership on the field when key playing decisions were made during games, it was weird to see so many players having their say and weird to see players unable to make a decision themselves, so they looked up to the coaches box.
Also of interest in that regard was the people who appeared to do the talking during team huddles. One game had me observing Simon Mannering laying down the law along with Issac Luke, with Tuivasa-Sheck not doing a whole lot. Many would view all of this as reason why Tuivasa-Sheck shouldn't be skipper or that there's a lack of true-blue leadership in the Warriors team.
That needs a severe dose of context given Tuivasa-Sheck has been learning how to be captain of a niggly club, at the age where many of us are pondering which country we're off to explore.
I found it strange that people expected Tuivasa-Sheck to showcase his leadership immediately and flaunt his newfound power (in a positive way), that doesn't happen quickly and Tuivasa-Sheck has had to learn all the intricacies of dealing with players, coaches and media in a matter of months.
Perhaps we could flip all those details that made people think that there was a lack of leadership in the Warriors and instead view it as the club coming together to support Tuivasa-Sheck. As Tuivasa-Sheck was learning all those intricacies, other players stood up to take some of the burden off Tuivasa-Sheck and from that perspective, Tuivasa-Sheck is incredibly lucky to have guys like Mannering, Luke, Johnson and Kieran Foran to lend a hand.
Compare how Tuivasa-Sheck has dealt with the captaincy and how Moylan has dealt with it.
I think we should all be grateful for the presence of everyone around Tuivasa-Sheck and note Tuivasa-Sheck's ability to handle all the ... bullshit that flies around him on a daily basis. Moylan's situation shows how difficult that can be, heck we only need to look at how Mannering stepped down from being captain. If Mannering found it difficult, shout outs to Tuivasa-Sheck for surviving 2017.
Tuivasa-Sheck survived as skipper and did his job as fullback, in fact as the season wore on and everything got worse, Tuivasa-Sheck got better. Measuring leadership is difficult, however in the last game of the season against Wests Tigers, Tuivasa-Sheck was animated, vocal and led by example. Measuring how Tuivasa-Sheck performed over the course of the season can be measured and this tells the story of a leader who refused to clock off once the season was all but over, who stepped up and showed his young comrades what was expected.
Here's Tuivasa-Sheck's last four games...
vs Raiders: 1 try, 23 runs, 262m, 1 line break, 1 offload.
vs Rabbitohs: 2 tries, 21 runs, 231m, 3 line breaks, 1 offload.
vs Sea Eagles: 24 runs, 204m, 1 try assistn, 1 offload.
vs Tigers: 1 try, 18 runs, 207m, 1 line break, 1 offload.
How about where Tuivasa-Sheck ranked among the NRL's best in key stats?
2nd in runs. 3rd in run metres. 8th in tackle busts. 4th in kick-return metres.
Tuivasa-Sheck's 2017: 10 tries, 9.37m/carry, 0.69 line breaks/game, 0.73 offloads/game, 4.6 tackle busts/game, 0.35 line break assists/game.
You could forgive Tuivasa-Sheck for cutting a rather frustrated figure at the moment as not a whole lot has gone right since moving to the Warriors, especially after the wanderlust of his time with the Roosters. Tuivasa-Sheck had a bung knee last year and this year he's tried his best to lead by example as best he can, although the frustration must stem from the lack of response in the players who Tuivasa-Sheck is a role model for. And Aotearoa got smoked by Australia earlier in the year and Tuivasa-Sheck has captained the Warriors through a tough 12 months.
That's the whole point in all of this though as Tuivasa-Sheck will emerge as a better player and better captain from 2017. Everything up to this point had been fairly easy for Tuivasa-Sheck and between a bung knee and his first season as skipper being the worst (results-wise) of his career, Tuivasa-Sheck has had a swift reality check. The idea though of being chucked in the deep end has merits because you learn, then you can apply those learnings and be better.
This year Tuivasa-Sheck averaged 9.37m/carry, 181.4m/game, 19.4 runs/game and he played 80 minutes through 22 games, while figuring out how to be the captain of a Warriors club that is best described as 'complex' ... oh and at 24-years old. Not only is there room for improvement stats-wise, we can only expect Tuivasa-Sheck to grow as a man, a captain and a leader in our community. 2017 was the starting point for Tuivasa-Sheck as Warriors captain and I'd much prefer to get the lows out of the way now, while the club is undergoing monumental change, allowing for growth in the coming years.
If you'd allow me to take this even further...
Over the past decade there have been far too many young men taking their own lives, or more specifically - far too many young Polynesian men taking their own lives in this NRL bubble. Tuivasa-Sheck has endured a dose of adversity and at various stages he has been open about the difficulties of his knee injury for example, now he's one of two Polynesian NRL captain and someone who we can all look up to.
As someone who spends a lot of time observing the Warriors, I'm rather proud that this club as made Tuivasa-Sheck captain. Perhaps in the past, Polynesian players at the Warriors haven't often been given the opportunity to captain the club, now the club has someone with all the qualities required, who has also endured some adversity early in his tenure. Tuivasa-Sheck is the star of the Warriors, he's the face of this club and I have no doubt that this will only become more obvious over the next few years as he starts to figure it all out.
With Moylan's situation in mind, we should be chuffed that Tuivasa-Sheck made it through this season. Even ignoring the Moylan situation, we should be chuffed that a 24-year-old Polynesian role model has emerged to take the Warriors forward into a new era and that the club is wise enough to give Tuivasa-Sheck the job then rally around him when times were tough. Now we move forward and this isn't a case of there only being one way to go from here as things could get much worse, 2017 could have been much worse.
What Tuivasa-Sheck has gone through will result in a net gain. Not only will Tuivasa-Sheck be more comfortable in his fullback duties, he will drive a culture of excellence because that's all he knows.
Peace and love 27.
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