Māori All Stars coach David Kidwell allowed star playmaker Kodi Nikorima to break the news to brother Jayden that his six-year exile from the game’s elite level was set to finally end.
Jayden Nikorima was named alongside Kodi in the Māori squad to play the Indigenous All Stars on February 12 at CommBank Stadium almost six years after his seventh and last NRL appearance for Sydney Roosters in 2016.
The former Australian Schoolboy was considered a star in the making before being sacked by the Roosters in 2017 and has had to wait until now for a second chance with the Storm, who provided Kidwell with a glowing recommendation before he decided to select Nikorima.
It will be the first time Kodi has played with Jayden since the 2014 NYC grand final, in which they were members of the Broncos under 20s team which lost 34-32 to the Warriors.
“I talked to Kodi and I let him give his brother the good news that he was going to play for the Māori All Stars,” Kidwell said.
“Kodi said it was awesome. Obviously, he knows the journey his bro’ has been through and being brothers they are pretty close.
“They probably haven’t played together since their Broncos days so there is some real excitement around that. It is great for them, great for the game and I am sure we will definitely see them out on the field together, hopefully playing some brotherly football.”
Match Highlights: Indigenous v Maori
Kidwell also spoke with the Storm to get an insight into how Nikorima was handling the pre-season in Melbourne and whether coach Craig Bellamy and GM of football Frank Ponissi believed he would cope with playing All Stars, which is the first fixture of the 2022 season.
They gave a glowing reference for the 25-year-old and revealed he was under consideration for the Storm bench utility role left vacant by the departure of Nicho Hynes, who is also set to make his All Stars debut as playmaker for the Indigenous team.
“The Storm is renowned for a good, old pre-season so I wanted to see how he was handling that with Bellyache down in Melbourne,” Kidwell said. “He has done the hard work and they said if you were looking for hookers or halves that I should consider giving Jayden a go.”
Kodi and Jayden Nikorima are the latest siblings to play for the Māori team under Kidwell, who last year called up Benji Marshall just days after he signed with South Sydney to play alongside brother Jeremy Marshall-King.
Dallin and Malakai Watene-Zelezniak also represented the Māori All Stars in 2020, while Jesse and Kenny Bromwich have played together in the past.
“Every year both sides are missing players so it is an opportunity for young players and up and coming players to represent their whanau and their iwi so it is really exciting,” Kidwell said.
“It is always a great game, it is always played at a high level and we haven’t played a rugby league game here in NSW since last June so not only both of our cultures but anyone who likes rugby league will enjoy this match.”
Despite the unavailability of Penrith five-eighth Jarome Luai, Sydney Roosters pair Joey Manu and Jared Waerea-Hargreaves and Storm stars Jesse Bromwich and Brandon Smith, Kidwell has managed to name a strong Māori squad.
Panthers prop James Fisher-Harris, who won the Preston Campbell Medal as man-of-the-match in last year’s 10-10 draw in Townsville, will again be among the forward leaders, along with Kenny Bromwich, Joseph Tapine and Kevin Proctor,
Kodi Nikorima, Jordan Rapana, Dylan Walker, Reimis Smith and Chanel Harris-Tavita will be key players in the backline.
The Indigenous team have lost Cody Walker and Jack Wighton but the presence of Josh Addo-Carr, Alex Johnston, Hamiso Tabuia-Fidow, Kotoni Staggs and Nicho Hynes will ensure coach Laurie Daley has a potent backline at his disposal.
Indigenous war cry finishes with moment of respect
Veteran Broncos playmaker Albert Kelly gets the chance to make his Indigenous All Stars debut after last season playing his first NRL match in seven years when called up from the Queensland Cup.
Cronulla prop Andrew Fifita is another hoping to use the All Stars match to revive his NRL career after spending five days in an induced coma in Brisbane following a life-threatening throat injury in the round 24 game against Newcastle.
Fifita is one of five Sharks players named in the Indigenous squad, while the club also has forwards Briton Nikora and Royce Hunt in Kidwell's Māori squad.