Siya followed a tough road but he’s living his dream

rugby28 May 2024 07:24| © SuperSport
By:Gavin Rich
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Siya Masuku © Getty Images

When Siya Masuku first got acquainted with rugby’s oval ball, it was so that he could play the sport he spent his formative years loving, and which he played quite well and with and against players much older than him up until he was 19 years of age.

Growing up in the small northern KwaZulu/Natal town of Paulpietersburg, the new Hollywoodbets Sharks flyhalf sensation who played such a pivotal role in orchestrating play in the 36-22 win over Gloucester in last weekend’s EPCR Challenge Cup final, Masuku loved soccer. And he says he’s continued to learn from it by studying players like Liverpool’s former captain Steven Gerrard in an attempt to grow his role as a playmaker, and also the kicking styles of the top players.

“At Paulpieterburg Primary School we had a coach, Mr Nel, who made it clear that if you wanted to play soccer in the second term you had to play rugby in the first term,” recalled Masuku in an interview with Supersport’s Fudge Mbeta in the buildup to the Challenge Cup final.

“That is how I got into rugby, and it was in those years I was introduced to the sport and started liking it.”

His soccer background meant that he was particularly interested in those embryonic years in the kicking aspect of rugby.

“For me it was just kicking the ball. in primary school kicked quite far. Not off the tee, but field kicking, I enjoyed sending the people away (with long kicks). I also enjoyed making it possible for the quick boys outside me to take on and beat the other guys on the outside. I got a kick out of that.”


Indeed, being the playmaker or creator has given the 27-year-old a sense of enjoyment that has become particularly acute in his new life as the Sharks flyhalf and that, allied with his kicking skills, was responsible for four man of the match awards in a row before the Challenge Cup final, where he again excelled with his smart tactical game.

Masuku says the past few months since he made his Sharks debut in the second half of a Vodacom United Rugby Championship loss to the DHL Stormers at Hollywoodbets Kings Park has been the realisation of a dream for him that started all those years ago when he was in his early teens.

“I come from KZN, I have been to Sharks trials before, in primary school etc, but I never got to play for the Sharks. So for me being back here means a lot. It is a big team and big club and I think we can achieve big things,” he said.

A keen student of the game, his elevation into the starting team was aided by having so keenly watched and studied the players who are now his teammates and who he seems to have such an innate onfield understanding and symmetry with.

“For me coming into the team I can’t say it has been easy, but I have spent a lot of time watching Lukhanyo (Am) and the other guys, (Aphelele) Fassi as well. I have been watching how they want to play and how we can help each other to help the team get into a better place. That has been key for me. The chat and the comms that go on on the field have helped me a lot too.”

Masuku’s journey to the Sharks though hasn’t been a quick one, and neither has it been a conventional one or an easy one. A few years ago he was about to take up a contract with the Southern Kings when it all fell flat with the arrival of the Covid pandemic.


“It was tough because my contract with Kings started two months into Covid and they could not renew, so I was just at home for five to six months. I was training on my own and waiting for an opportunity. At the time teams had contracted who they needed so they couldn’t add new players into their systems.

“I had an opportunity to go to Spain for six months and it was good and lovely and I enjoyed it. In my time there I got a call from an old coach of mine Melusi Mthethwa and coach Hawies (Fourie) from the Cheetahs. They said they wanted to bring me back, they gave me a lifeline and I took it.”

Mthethwa, currently with newly crowned Varsity Cup champions Shimlas, has had a massive impact on Masuku’s career.

“It was during my high school years, in grade 12, that I first met Melusi. He changed my life actually. I don’t know where I would be now if it was not for him. He was very patient with me and saw something I didn’t see in myself,” recalls the man now nicknamed Iceman for his penchant for kicking over high pressure kicks like the touchline conversion that won the Challenge Cup final.

I joined him in Potchefstroom for under-19s and played under-19s for him. I played the whole season there then after that season got a contract to go to the Lions. It was during that season there I actually realised I could go far in the game. At first I was not so confident, and maybe wasn’t thinking about my game, but playing in structure made me more confident and made me feel that I could actually get there and do something in rugby.

“The Lions are a big team and I also was there at a good time. The union was in a good space, with the main franchise team making three Super Rugby finals in a row. The coaching staff was really on point.”


It was at the Cheetahs though that Masuku properly hit the big time, and initially it was at the less familiar position for him of inside centre.

“I think I got lucky at the time. I was fourth in line for flyhalf, but it was still Covid times and in the week we were playing the Pumas in the Currie Cup a lot of centres were sick. So they needed someone to cover 12. That was where I played my Cheetahs debut.”

It went well for Masuku in that position too, but what he really got out of his time in the No 12 jersey was a greater understanding of what the players outside of flyhalf need from the pivot.

“At 12 you have more time than you do at 10, you see and identify more space. You also check how a 10 does things on the field. So when I shifted back to 10 was more composed and now I know people outside me would have certain options according to what I did at flyhalf. Playing at 12 helped as gave me chance to experience how the position works.”

It was at the Cheetahs that he first got that Ice Man nickname after kicking a crucial conversion for the Cheetahs against Pau in the Challenge Cup. He won the Currie Cup playing for the Cheetahs and before that he had won the national club champs with the Impalas, so with the Challenge Cup now added to the collection, he is no stranger to silverware.

“My kicking is inspired a bit by what I watch in football, how they go about it. There are always new things and it felt good after it went over,” he said in reference to what Mabeta described as a “reverse swing” kick in the tight semifinal against Clermont-Auvergne at the Stoop.


He scored 22 points in that game but also showed his worth as a creative presence, proving a perfect synthesis between the two flyhalves he studied extensively before coming through onto the big stage, former Wallaby and Reds flyhalf Quade Cooper and the erstwhile Bulls and Bok goalkicking metronome Morne Steyn.

“Obviously at high school I started being more of a student of the game, watching clips and checking who I would like to emulate and how I would express myself,” said Masuku.

“There are different types of 10. I wanted to have a balance between certain flyhalves. I liked how Quade played in Super Rugby around 2011/12. I was watching more Super Rugby games then than I had previously. I liked the way he ran the attack and was also able to attack one on one.

“When it came to the kicking part, I was a big fan of Morne Steyn. They were playing in that same era. He was at 10 for the Boks at the time. I saw how he marshalled the forwards and kept them on the front foot. also how he kicked for poles and how accurate he was. He really inspired me a lot.”