Rookie Sharks back-rower Briton Nikora twinged his lower back in the win against Penrith on Thursday night and was moments away from being interchanged before pushing away medical staff, returning to the defensive line then re-emerging after half-time to star in Cronulla's big comeback.
Nikora was left on the ground for an extended period after tweaking his back in a tackle shortly before half-time and could barely stand up straight but he refused to go off and pushed the pain to one side in the second half, breaking the line twice and producing a remarkable chip kick for a crucial Chad Townsend penalty try.
Speaking to NRL.com, Nikora shrugged off both the injury and the stunning try assist, insisting he had to make up for a week earlier when between himself and centre partner Bronson Xerri, two likely tries went begging.
"The back's a bit stiff. Just in a tackle in the first half I pulled it or something but it's all right. It was OK in the second half," Nikora said of the injury.
His chip kick – on the fly and at pace – sat up perfectly for Townsend, who was awarded the penalty try and would likely have scored had he not been tackled before he could play at the ball. It was a turnaround from a week earlier against the Roosters, when on two occasions he broke the line and fired a sharp pass to a supporting Xerri, who was unable to hold on on both occasions.
"It was because of last week, I butchered a few tries. Just, I don't know, in the moment I just kicked it and it worked," Nikora said.
"It was a good second half from the boys, especially Shauny [Johnson] and Chaddy, they were just controlling everything.
"I just run the line, Shauny does the rest, I just run the lines that I have to and if it goes out the back I just try and suck the defenders in."
Nikora's brave effort earned praise from his coach John Morris, who said the experience of playing through pain would help the young Kiwi in the long run.
"It's amazing, six games into his career and he pushes away the medical staff who were just getting ready to bring him off," Morris said.
"We had the interchange card in our hand to get him off and he found a way to get back into the defensive line then 10 minutes later he's making breaks and doing chips over the top and setting up tries so he's just a wonderful kid.
"It's great for his development to be able to play through same pain and be as effective as he was.
"It's something to do with his hip and lower back. It's very encouraging that he played the game out but I'm not sure if it was a hip pointer or a blow to his lower back but he's got a fair few ice packs on it at the moment."
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