Mehrtens urges patience with Tuivasa-Sheck to avoid repeat of Benji Marshall flop

All Blacks great Andrew Mehrtens has warned the New Zealand Rugby community not to give code-jumper Roger Tuivasa-Sheck the Benji Marshall treatment when the Warriors captain makes the switch to rugby next year.

Marshall lasted little more than six months with the Blues having departed the Wests Tigers in the NRL at the end of 2013, the hot-stepping five-eighth keen at that stage to try his hand at rugby and pursue a dream of playing for the All Blacks.

But it never quite worked out with the then-dysfunctional Blues, the two parties eventually parting ways when Marshall was not prepared to drop back to club rugby to learn his trade at the request of coach Sir John Kirwan.

Tuivasa-Sheck, however, has the advantage of playing far more rugby in his youth, with the 2018 Dally M Award winner having been a part of the Blues' junior pathways system before he was plucked out of the game by Sydney Roosters where he would go on to win the 2013 NRL Premiership.

Still, Mehrtens urged patience with Tuivasa-Sheck despite the Warriors star's goal of making the All Blacks' 2023 Rugby World Cup squad.

"Obviously just having a feel for the structure of the game, it's really hard if you haven't had any experience," Mehrtens said of Tuivasa-Sheck's rugby pedigree.

"The games look so similar in terms of the basic skills, but just the flow of the game, the structure between league and rugby, it's really hard to go either way without experience.

"It's not impossible of course, I know a lot of people have done it successfully when they have been managed really well.

"But for Roger having had the experience of schools rugby in New Zealand, that will certainly help, and he's a talented guy.

"There'll still be some management required in that and I'm sure he's not going to go in and expect to know [everything] straight away, to kick back into it.

"So the way he's managed, I certainly hope he's eased back into a lot better than, say, Benji Marshall was, because I thought that was one of the great shames of the transitions in recent times; I thought he could have been absolutely fantastic in rugby.

"But I don't think it helped that he went into team that wasn't performing well with the Blues, he was chopped around in positions and stuff like that.

"So we've got to have some understanding and give Tuivasa-Sheck time to find his feet, and it will take time.

"So let's not have high expectations, let's hope that he delivers more than we can expect initially. But let's give him some time to ease into it."

Tuivasa-Sheck will be likely head to the same club where Marshall's short rugby stint played out, but the Blues are an entirely different outfit seven years on from that failed experiment.

Coach Leon McDonald seems to have at last got the playing squad on the same page, bringing through the best of the region's stacked player pool and recruiting from outside, too, most notably in the acquisition of Beauden Barrett, who will miss this Super Rugby Aotearoa season through his playing sabbatical in Japan.

Talk out of New Zealand suggests Tuivasa-Sheck may ultimately be viewed as a centre in the longer term, though there is little doubt his recruitment adds to an already stacked outside back list that includes Rieko Ioane, Mark Telea, Barrett [2022] and last year's breakout star, Caleb Clarke.

Asked where he saw Tuivasa-Sheck fitting in, Mehrtens again referenced Marshall's failed switch.

"I think fullback for Tuivasa-Sheck, giving the opportunity to roam at the back, liaise with his wingers; half the time these days they end up being fairly interchangeable at the back which is why we've got more of the fullback-skilled wingers coming through," Mehrtens, who was on Wednesday unveiled as part of Nine and Stan Sport's Australian commentary team, told ESPN.

"But I think putting him at fullback, allowing him to get a feel for the game, see the big picture in front of him, liaise with the 10, I think that would be his best position.

"When Benji Marshall first came across [in 2014], his best rugby was actually his first game when he came on for 20 minutes against the highlanders and he played 15, and he was given a roaming commission to look what's in front, call if you want to get the ball or you want to take the play a certain way, and the 10 will react and get you the ball.

"And I think it would be tough putting him [Tuivasa-Sheck] out on the wing, he's more used to that fullback position in league just where he can see what's going on in front of him. So I think that would be the natural spot to put him in."

Tuivasa-Sheck will likely need to develop a kicking game to be a serious contender for the Blues at fullback, let alone the All Blacks, and Mehrtens sees coach Ian Foster sticking with his Richie Mo'unga-Beauden Barrett 10-15 axis regardless.

"I think it will continue, that 10-15 role it is interchangeable, and it really brings a need for your 10 to have speed, have out-and-out gas, to be able to handle slotting into that fullback role at times," Mehrtens said.

"And it gives the fullback a break every now and then from having to run 40 or 50 metres just to get the ball when it dictates direction.

"So I think they'll continue with it and they've got better and better at balancing it out. And it's like anything, it's a combination in itself, so taking some time to develop that from having been two guys essentially vying for the same position at one stage and now working together.

"They get better the more time they have together and when it works it works really really well."