Marshall backs Nikorima to shake utility tag
It turns out we've had the importance of a utility in rugby league wrong all along.
Perhaps taking our line from the oft-quoted phrase "Jack of all trades, master of none", finding a place for a player capable of playing a number of positions but not the best in any of them has been a coaching conundrum ever since the introduction of the interchange.
But if we explore the phrase in its entirety there is a case to be made that those who are tagged as a 'utility' could very well be the most important player in the squad.
The actual phrase reads that "a jack of all trades is a master of none, but oftentimes better than a master of one" which casts Brisbane's modern-day Mr Fix-It Kodi Nikorima in a whole new light.
Asked to start at fullback for the first time in his young NRL career on Thursday night against the Bulldogs Nikorima was one of the best players on the park, scoring a crucial try to break Canterbury's stubborn resistance midway through the second half and proving elusive on kick returns, not to mention a slick pair of hands that should have led to a try to Jonus Pearson.
When Ben Hunt and Anthony Milford have been absent this year Nikorima stepped into the halves and scored four tries as the Broncos went a perfect seven-from-seven with the 23-year-old in the No.7 jersey yet there are no guarantees he will be in the 17 come next Friday night against the Eels.
Darius Boyd is due to return from his broken thumb at fullback and Milford and Hunt have rekindled their halves pairing, leaving Nikorima to fight with Benji Marshall for a place on the bench.
Admitting that being tagged as a versatile utility can sometimes make it hard to lock down a starting position, Marshall believes with a freshly-inked three-year deal this week Nikorima will emerge as Brisbane's long-term halfback but that he is fighting for a place each week at present.
"I think he's eventually going to fill a role at halfback but he's that type of player that can play anywhere," Marshall told NRL.com.
"That makes it hard sometimes I reckon. There's probably been a lot of guys that have suffered that, that utility sort of tag, but the good thing for him is that he will get a crack at halfback here next year and hold onto that spot for the year if he wants it.
"It's a bit of a week-to-week thing at the moment but whatever happens I thought he really stood up and proved a lot of people wrong who probably thought he didn't belong there."
Given the reduction in interchanges and the more stringent protocols around concussion, carrying a player on the bench capable of playing multiple positions shapes as a major trump card as we inch towards the finals.
With an ability to fit in at fullback, in the halves and at hooker to equally good effect, Nikorima would seem on the surface to be a key part of Brisbane's premiership puzzle but coach Wayne Bennett said post-game that he couldn't guarantee he would be there against Parramatta next week, a challenge Nikorima is only too happy to take up.
"If he doesn't think that I'll be there next week then that's his call. I'll back him 100 per cent," Nikorima said, no doubt music to the ears of a man such as Bennett.
"I love this team and I love this club. It shows that I just re-signed for three years so I'll leave that up to Wayne and whatever he decides I'll just go with it.
"Obviously nothing's guaranteed [in terms of playing halfback next year]. I've got to work hard for that but for this year I want to be in the 17 every week.
"I'll just keep training hard and keep trying to play some good games out on the paddock."