Bennett: 'I will stick with Kodi at half'
Wayne Bennett has declared he will stick with Kodi Nikorima at halfback this season in another boost to the Kiwi international's confidence in his new full-time role at the Brisbane Broncos.
Nikorima told NRL.com last week how Bennett's public vote of confidence in him playing in the halfback position last year, and subsequent one-on-one conversation, had given him a great boost when there was speculation the Broncos would go to market to replace Ben Hunt.
The 23-year-old started at half 13 times in 2017, mostly with Anthony Milford by his side, and Brisbane won 11 of those games.
Bennett knows the importance of stability and the right mindset for any player taking on such a pivotal role and he has given Nikorima another huge vote of confidence as he continues to train in the halfback role full-time and prepare to partner Anthony Milford.
"Kodi will have a lot more confidence this year because he knows I will stick with him as halfback as well," Bennett told NRL.com.
"He is talented. He is dedicated and he has good footy nous.
"Kodi has a lot of wonderful qualities that you need to play in that position.
"This time last year Kodi was training to be a hooker and utility player for us. This year he is training as a halfback full-time.
"That shows the advances he has made and we are confident in what we have done, and we are confident in him."
Bennett got to see what Nikorima had to offer at half in the cauldron of the NRL through unforeseen circumstances, but said that he delivered when it counted.
"Ben Hunt got injured and that is what got him the opportunities, and from then on he showed us what he could do," Bennett said.
"Andrew McCullough got injured and we put Ben Hunt at hooker because we had enough confidence in Kodi to play halfback.
"Inadvertently, he got a lot of experience last year. He is training there now. It is his full-time position and he knows he has a bit of stability in his life."
Former Broncos captain Wally Lewis said Bennett's public display of faith in Nikorima was a masterstroke.
"You have a look at the history chart of the Broncos' No.7 jersey and there have mostly been stars who were strike players for Brisbane," Lewis told NRL.com.
"So there is a fair bit of pressure attached to wearing that jersey, but for Kodi knowing and reading that his coach has faith in him in that position will boost his confidence as the season continues and will be a huge benefit mentally.
"Bennett has had this plan in mind for a while and he would have been working in well with Kodi at training and telling him exactly the style of football he wants him to play at halfback.
"I think Kodi has enough experience, and enough very good advice from the man in charge, to do the job.
"When he does go on the field in round one I am sure Bennett will pat him on the shoulder and tell him he believes in him, and to play his own game and just feel comfortable."
Bennett will be patient with the Milford/Nikorima combination which he said was "a work in progress", and said that on reflection the club's achievement of reaching the preliminary final last season under duress was a worthy effort.
"Anthony played Origin last year and he will be a lot more confident player this year," Bennett said.
"But we nursed ourselves through to the end of last season.
"Anthony had a bad shoulder and we were nursing that each week. McCullough was gone. Hunt had to go to hooker and Kodi came into half.
"When I look back on our season, we probably did a lot better than we thought we did."