Broncos begin work on Issac Luke clone
His teammates have already begun calling him 'Bully' as the Broncos endeavour to mould Kodi Nikorima into their very own version of Rabbitohs and Kiwis hooker Issac Luke.
After a junior career spent almost exclusively in the halves, Nikorima played much of the 2014 Holden Cup season at fullback but made his NRL debut last Friday against the Sharks in a dummy-half role off the bench.
It's a similar trajectory to that which Luke took upon his arrival from New Zealand as a 17-year-old winger/fullback in 2005 and Nikorima, 20, now studies video of the Rabbitohs No.9 in order to make the transition himself.
Broncos hooker Andrew McCullough told NRL.com that the pair did little work together during the pre-season as incoming coach Wayne Bennett tried to work out the best way to utilise the young talent.
A second outing at the Auckland Nines was followed up by a spot on Brisbane's bench for the World Club Series game against Wigan in February and with 12 tackles in 25 minutes of game-time earned the trust of his fellow men in the middle third.
"My nickname over there was 'Bully' so I thought defensively I was all right and handled myself," Nikorima said.
"I'm always looking at [Luke's] video, him and 'Seggie' (Panthers hooker James Segeyaro). They get their forwards rolling and they're quick out of dummy half and they're smart when they do it, so definitely 'Bully'."
Both hailing from the southern end of New Zealand's North Island, Nikorima and Luke have both tapped out at 174 centimetres tall but with eight seasons of first grade behind him Luke's frame carries an extra five kilograms.
As assistant coach at the Broncos it's a similarity that has not gone unnoticed by Kiwis coach Stephen Kearney but he says it is important for Nikorima to cast his own mould rather than becoming an Issac Luke carbon copy.
"Issac is obviously one of the top hookers in the competition at the moment along with the likes of Cameron Smith," Kearney said.
"[Kodi] has got his own unique style to him at dummy half. He's got quick acceleration similar to Issac Luke so it's a matter of taking a little bit of what Issac Luke does and a little bit of what someone else does and combining that into his own style."
Defensive deficiencies were noticeable over the past two years in the under-20s competition so in order to rectify that area of his game Nikorima asked for punishing extra tackling sessions after training throughout the pre-season, inviting the likes of James Gavet and Corey Parker to run at him over and over again.
As the smallest bloke in the Broncos' 17, being targeted by the big blokes will be a familiar scenario for Nikorima but one Kearney is confident he can cope with given his work in the pre-season.
"At the top level every opposing team will be looking for the easiest way to go forward and a lot of the times it's the smaller bloke that they think is the easiest way to get there," he said.
"He's going to get a bit of traffic but he's prepared himself really well in that regard and he needs to continue to do that. That's the important process for him, having big guys running at him, that's who's going to be running at him on Friday night.
"He's got some good speed out of dummy half but what convinced us was the fact that he handled everything thrown at him in the pre-season and what he can bring to the team in terms of his footballing ability."
Having been faced with rampaging runners in Andrew Fifita and Paul Gallen in his NRL debut, Nikorima now awaits the prospect of a fired-up Cowboys forward pack ready to send the likes of Matt Scott, Jason Taumalolo and James Tamou his way.
"I think you've just got to get good line speed on them," said Nikorima, who turns 21 next month.
"They're world-class players, Fifita and Gallen, so good line speed, stop their momentum first and then everyone else will fold in and help you out."
If he comes through this latest assignment with the respect of his teammates, that nickname may just stick.