New Warriors captain Peta Hiku admits it only sunk in that he was unlikely to play alongside Roger Tuivasa-Sheck again when teammates were joined by players from rival clubs to farewell the Kiwi superstar with a haka.
Tuivasa-Sheck and prop Leeson Ah Mau left the Warriors camp on Thursday to fly home to New Zealand before the trans-Tasman bubble closes and the rugby union-bound fullback’s next appearance is likely to be for the All Blacks.
Hiku, who has played the majority of his 11 Tests for the Kiwis and 67 Warriors appearances alongside Tuivasa-Sheck, takes over the captaincy from him when he returns from a shoulder injury in Friday night’s match against Wests Tigers.
The match will be Hiku’s first since undergoing shoulder surgery in April and he was initially ruled out for the season but never gave up hope of playing for the Warriors again before moving to North Queensland in 2022.
“It [the injury] came along better than was thought so we decided there was a possibility I could get back and I was happy to do that,” Hiku said of his faster-than-expected recovery.
“I think a big part of it has been wanting to play, and it has been frustrating with how our results have been. I love playing the game and if I can get out there and help, I am more than happy to do that.”
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With Tuivasa-Sheck and Ah Mau leaving, star forwards Tohu Harris and Addin Fonua-Blake injured and prop Matt Lodge suspended, Hiku will become the third Warriors captain in as many matches.
The 28-year-old is honoured to be given the role by coach Nathan Brown but is also aware that he has big shoes to fill as Tuivasa-Sheck had been regarded as one of the best captains in the NRL.
“I was quite nervous about coming back from injury and I wasn’t really thinking about anything else so I think it was really only this morning when Roger was leaving that I thought about how he wasn’t going to be there alongside me,” Hiku said.
“His last game was a tough one for the club and it obviously wasn’t how he wanted to finish. Our last game together was also disappointing because I came off after only five minutes.”
Tuivasa-Sheck said his goodbyes to Warriors players and coaching staff, who then formed a guard of honour for him and performed a haka before he departed the Gold Coast hotel where the team has been staying.
Players from Canberra, Canterbury, Parramatta and South Sydney joined in.
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“It just shows the effect he has had on other clubs, not just the Warriors or the Roosters, but all other clubs respected him,” Hiku said.
“It was pretty special to be a part of. He has had a massive impact on the club and with what he has put into the club I think it was important to show what he meant to the club.
“Roger has done a lot for the game, he has achieved so much for a humble person like himself.
“He was obviously from New Zealand, he got a Dally M award and to do it at a young age …. he is the type of person to strive for what he dreams of and that is what he has done in our sport.”
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Rabbitohs forward Keaon Koloamatangi was among the rivals players who took part in the haka.
“It was pretty crazy, we went up there at 8.30am, and it was good to see all the clubs get out there and show the clubs show their respect for Roger and Leeson,” Koloamatangi said.
“It was spine-tingling to watch. It’s good to see the other boys from other clubs jump in to do the haka.
“It shows what he has done for the game and he was sent off the right way.”