Livewire utility Kodi Nikorima’s rookie NRL season encompassed a grand final and a debut call-up for New Zealand. Despite fierce competition for the halves and hooker spots, he has played 15 of a possible 23 Tests since breaking into the Kiwis’ squad in 2015.
Born in Palmerston North, Nikorima played for Canterbury club Burnham Chevaliers as a youngster while his father was based at Burnham Military Camp, before the family moved to Brisbane. Nikorima came through the grades at Aspley Devils before joining Brisbane Broncos’ NYC team and representing Queensland Under-18s in 2012.
The versatile attacking dynamo scored 40 tries in 67 under-20s games, culminating in a heart-breaking grand final loss to the Warriors in 2014. Nikorima played fullback in that decider and wore the No.1 again for the Junior Kiwis two weeks later, scoring a try in a 15-14 win over the Junior Kangaroos in Auckland.
But Nikorima was employed as an interchange utility by Broncos first-grade coach Wayne Bennett throughout his rookie season, predominantly spending his game-time at dummy-half. He featured off the bench in the epic golden point grand final loss to North Queensland at the end of 2015 before being named in the Kiwis side to tour England.
The 21-year-old played all three Tests under Stephen Kearney – an assistant coach at the Broncos – debuting off the bench in the series opener and starting at halfback in the remaining two encounters of the 2-1 loss.
Nikorima lined up at five-eighth in New Zealand’s 2016 Anzac Test loss, but a dislocated shoulder ended his NRL campaign in July and ruled him out of the Kiwis’ post-season schedule. Back on deck in Round 6 the following season, he received a chance to cement the Brisbane No.7 jersey and came off the bench in another Anzac Test defeat. He played five-eighth alongside Shaun Johnson in 2017 RLWC pool matches against Samoa – scoring his maiden Test try – and Tonga but was demoted to the interchange for the Kiwis’ quarter-final exit at the hands of Fiji.
Lightning-quick off the mark with great vision and a clever kicking game, Nikorima nailed down the Broncos’ halfback spot the following season and scored 10 tries in 24 games. He also lined up at halfback in all five Tests on the Kiwis’ 2018 docket (with Johnson at five-eighth in four) – the historic Denver Test against England, the 26-24 upset of Australia at Mount Smart in October and the 2-1 series defeat in England.
Nikorima was a resounding man-of-the-match in the morale-boosting third Test victory at Elland Road, starting and finishing a 40-metre try, and producing three deft try-assists as New Zealand ran riot 34-0.
After playing the first seven games of the Broncos’ 2019 NRL campaign, Nikorima was granted a mid-season release to join the Warriors. He was named in an extended squad for the June Test against Tonga soon afterwards but did not make the final 17 with veteran Benji Marshall earning a halves recall.
Nikorima featured in the Kiwis’ World Cup Nines foray in Sydney at the end of the season but was initially left out of the squad for the Tests against Australia and Great Britain. He was holidaying in Queenstown when coach Michael Maguire sent out an SOS for Nikorima just two days out from the first Test against the Lions after hooker Brandon Smith was stood down for disciplinary reasons.
The 25-year-old answered the call and started at dummy-half at Eden Park, reeling off a game-high 53 tackles in the tense 12-8 win. Smith returned for the second Test but Nikorima was included on the bench, playing 33 minutes at hooker as New Zealand powered to a 23-8 victory.