Brisbane halfback Kodi Nikorima has expressed his desire to be part of the rebuilding phase for the New Zealand Kiwis ahead of the team being named on Sunday for next week's Denver Test against England.
Speaking to NRL.com after a fine individual performance in his side's 20-16 win over Cronulla on Saturday, Nikorima said while he felt the Broncos, in particular himself and halves partner Anthony Milford, still had plenty to work on, the positive signs of improvement were welcome.
It was important for Brisbane to hit back after a poor second half against the Storm last week and Nikorima was heavily involved, running 106 metres with one line break (and almost a couple more), while letting senior man Milford handle most of the kicking duties.
Nikorima also stepped up in the 10-minute period Milford spent in the sin-bin.
"I think I'm definitely starting to own my role a lot more," Nikorima said.
"That comes with more experience, playing more games. I'll continue to do that. Especially when Milly got 10 minutes in the sin bin I really have to stand up and take the leadership role.
"I'm happy where I'm at so far but I've got to keep building, I've still got a long way to get to where I want to be and I know where I can be."
Match highlights: Sharks v Broncos – Round 15, 2018
The halves pairing put plenty of focus on their combination at training, he added.
There has been plenty of pressure on the two to step up this season in the absence of Ben Hunt but Nikorima says not much has changed outside of a need to replace Hunt's polished kicking game.
"Even last year I feel like there wasn't really a dominant half," Nikorima said.
"When Ben Hunt was there, Benji [Marshall], Milf and myself, it was sort of like a shared role. What we had to work on, which I guess Ben left a little dent in this side, was definitely the kicking game.
"Me and Milf work really hard at training with our kicking coach in Kurt Richards. We'll keep improving, we're not content yet with where we're at. We've still got a long way to go.
"We've been practising hard at training with linking together and not playing just one side. We both play on both sides of the ball and when we do that it's giving guys outside us opportunities."
Asked about the impending Kiwis team naming for Denver under new coach Michael Maguire, Nikorima said he remained hopeful of a phone call.
With Benji Marshall (calf) and Kieran Foran (toe) unavailable and Shaun Johnson no guarantee to feature given he has just returned from a series of injuries, the door is open for the likes of Kodi Nikorima and Te Maire Martin to emerge as the next generation of Kiwi playmakers.
"I'm hoping," he said.
"It would be bad news if Shaun doesn't play, he's been tremendous this year and one of the halves of the comp at the moment so hopefully he's on the flight and I'm on there with him."
The Denver Test next Saturday is the first chance at redemption for a New Zealand side that was embarrassingly dumped out of the 2017 World Cup by Fiji in the quarter finals, while Fiji and Tonga both progressed to the final four.
"Going off [the World Cup] last year, it was pretty disappointing. I definitely feel like there's a lot of fire in the bellies of the Kiwi players at the moment and obviously the new coach," Nikorima said.
"I'm excited to meet Mags if I get that opportunity. The Kiwi jersey ... there's a lot of potential there and hopefully we can do some good things going forward."
Nikorima said he has heard from Maguire since the premiership-winning former Rabbitohs coach took over.
"I've spoken to him, he seems like a genuine bloke so we'll see what he says [when the team is named]," he said.
"It's really exciting times at the moment. You look at those blokes [that have retired], Simon [Mannering], Russell [Packer], Ben [Matulino] - they've done a tremendous job in that black and white jersey so it's up to us young blokes to continue what they've done and build on this.
"It's a fresh start, a lot of young faces that you'll see in the Kiwi jersey and hopefully we all can do everyone proud."