Queensland Nik another one
Rookie Roosters utility Jayden Nikorima says a decision to pledge to Australia and Queensland over his birth country New Zealand wasn't a difficult one – even though his older brother Kodi has already donned the black and white at Test level.
While any serious senior representative considerations are still well down the track for the 19-year-old, it's his junior days at the Aspley Devils in north Brisbane rather than his birthplace of Palmerston North in New Zealand that forged his representative allegiance.
While Kodi spent the first 10 years of his life in NZ, Jayden was only seven when they moved and his early memories of watching Origin as a kid growing up in Brisbane made his move to pledge for Australia and the Maroons simple.
"We were both born there in Palmerston North. We lived in Christchurch; dad was in the army so we were in the army barracks there and mum and dad thought it would be the right move to get out of the army and move to Australia where my dad's brother was," Jayden Nikorima told NRL.com.
"Growing up in Queensland, I want to put the Maroon jersey on. I watched Origin, I grew up around Origin. I've got to find my feet in first grade first but in a couple of years if I get the chance to do that I'll take it with both hands."
The decision to turn his back on New Zealand and his brother, was not a difficult one.
"I was born in New Zealand and I'm a Kiwi but growing up in Brisbane, that's where I felt like my home is and where my heart is. I played a few games against NSW in schoolboys at our Origin level and there's nothing better than playing an Origin game so that got me pledging for Queensland."
Current Roosters teammate and close friend Jackson Hastings was a teammate of Nikorima's at Australian Schoolboy level – and a tormenter at junior Origin levels – and the chance to eventually get one back on his one-time Australian Schoolboys halves partner only adds further incentive for the ex-Bronco.
"I've never beaten NSW so I haven't beaten Jacko in an Origin game!" Nikorima laughed.
"And he lets me know it. Every time we come up against each other. The thought of beating him gets me a bit hungrier!"
For his part, Hastings had plenty of positive feedback for Nikorima despite the young utility being moved back to the bench over the past fortnight by coach Trent Robinson in favour of Aidan Guerra.
"He's been really good; obviously he's been put in the pressure cooker a little bit but he's held himself really well, he scored a really good try against Canberra, he's threatened in all the games he's been on around the ruck," Hastings told NRL.com.
"The more confidence he gains and the more games he plays the more he's going to start opening teams up around the middle with his footwork. A bit like what his brother does for Brisbane around the ruck, getting loose forwards, turning inside shoulders. He's a confident kid and the more games he plays the more people will see how confident he is and what ability he has got," he added.
Nikorima's defence has been surprisingly good for a young rookie who is also at the smaller end of the scales at 174cm and 84kg, making 74 tackles with nine misses in his first month of NRL football – a feat for which he credits trying to tackle his big brother in the backyard for so many years.
It's arguably even more remarkable given he hardly had an off-season due to shoulder surgery.
"I haven't really been run over like I thought I would have!" he laughed.
"Me and my older brother grew up throwing ourselves at each other and tackling each other so I guess you've got to do what's best for the team and when you run out over that white line you're in a war so you've got to put your body on the line. If they're going to pick me out I'll do my best to get them down!"
Despite the challenge of trying to step up to first grade on limited preparation, Nikorima has always been up for a challenge.
"[Round 1] was my first game back from shoulder surgery. I guess it does fatigue you a bit coming up against these big mobile back-rowers and front rowers running at you all day and picking you out a bit but I'm enjoying it. I like a challenge so I'm enjoying myself at the moment," he said.
It's been a sharp rise for a young player who ideally would be in a development pattern at the moment rather than thrust into the limelight following an eight-game suspension to senior half Mitch Pearce, but Nikorima holds no regrets – though he would like to have had a few wins by this stage.
"It's not how I dreamed about my NRL career going but it's a good experience and to do it alongside Jacko is pretty surreal," he said.
"We played Aussie schoolboys together in the halves so to think I'd be debuting alongside him is mind blowing but I got the opportunity to do it and I'm taking the experience in and trying to better my game.
"But it'd be good to get a few wins under our belts!"
He also revealed his older brother had given him plenty of words of encouragement over the Roosters' tough 0-5 start to the year.
"We talk to each other after every game; he said keep improving your game, things will change for you and your team, keep doing you and just enjoy yourself and don't let these losses get you down."