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Marata Niukore has set himself three goals in the next three months – helping the Eels to a premiership, winning the World Cup with the Kiwis and witnessing the birth of his next child in New Zealand.

The 2022 Telstra Premiership Grand Final against Penrith at Accor Stadium on Sunday will be Niukore’s farewell appearance for Parramatta as he is returning home to New Zealand with partner Nikki Johns and their two sons, Kayden and Levi, after six seasons with the Eels.

Kayden and Levi were born in Australia but Niukore and Johns are determined that their third child will be a Kiwi, as one of the reasons for the 26-year-old’s move to the Warriors was so they could be closer to family in Auckland.

Marata Niukore shares a laugh with Eels team-mates ahead of the grand final
Marata Niukore shares a laugh with Eels team-mates ahead of the grand final ©Grant Trouville/NRL Photos

“We are going to have a Kiwi baby, this one will hopefully be born in New Zealand and I am looking forward to that,” Niukore said.

“I have got two Aussie kids, who were both born here, so I am looking forward to taking my missus home and having our next one born in New Zealand.

“It is going to be a busy couple of months, the baby is due in mid-December, so if I do get to go to the World Cup, then hopefully I can come home and support my missus as much as possible.”

Niukore is set to play a key role in New Zealand coach Michael Maguire’s World Cup plans as the Kiwis are light on for centres and he is equally capable of playing there as well as second-row.

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Eels teammate Bailey Simonsson, who was a late call-up for last weekend’s preliminary final win against North Queensland and will again play centre in the grand final, is also an option for the backline position.

However, Niukore will be part of the Kiwis squad after the NZRL fought for the utility to be able to play at the World Cup.

Niukore had helped the Cook Islands secure their place at the tournament by beating South Africa and the United States in 2019. Under IRL eligibility rules, any player involved in qualifying matches can’t play for another World Cup nation.

However, Maguire and NZRL CEO Greg Peters successfully argued that Niukore had represented his Cook Islands heritage as an NRL rookie four seasons ago in the belief that the World Cup would be played in 2021.

Had the World Cup gone ahead as scheduled 12 months ago, he would have been free to switch allegiances this year to New Zealand, where he was born.

“It was a challenge, and I am grateful for the time and effort that Madge and the NZRL put into getting me over the line,” Niukore said.

“I am just grateful to be able to put my hand up for the Kiwis at the World Cup and hopefully I will get the opportunity to play.”

The New Zealand squad will be announced on Monday but until then Niukore’s focus is on helping Parramatta and coach Brad Arthur to an eagerly awaited premiership.

Arthur signed Niukore when he had few options after being told at the end of the 2016 season that the Warriors would not be making him an offer and the pair have become close, with the coach also acting as a babysitter for Kayden and Levi.

Niukore celebrates a try in Parramatta's semi-final defeat of Canberra
Niukore celebrates a try in Parramatta's semi-final defeat of Canberra ©Gregg Porteous/NRL Photos

“We have such a good relationship and we spoke a couple of weeks ago about what an ending it would be to finish with a grand final and we have an opportunity to do that now,” Niukore said.

“You talk about fairytale endings, and this is it for me this week. To leave with a ring would be such a relief and a dream come true.

“But when I look back on my time at Parramatta, whether that is with the ring or without it, I know that I have a lot of good memories at this club, with people on and off the field. There is no better way to finish than in a grand final.”

After finishing fourth, Parramatta’s premiership hopes looked shaky when they were beaten 27-8 by the Panthers in the opening play-offs match and many anticipated a qualifying finals exit for the fifth time in six seasons.

To reach the grand final for the first time since 2009, the Eels thrashed Canberra 40-4 and powered home to beat North Queensland 24-20 in Townsville last weekend in a performance that highlighted their determination to end a 36-year premiership drought.

“We looked at the video of the last 10 minutes and there were just blokes putting in effort on effort and turning up in places they shouldn’t be,” Niukore said.

“That is the stuff that wins you big matches and it is going to be no different against Penrith. If we put ourselves in the camera frame that will take us a long way.

“We know we beat ourselves in the last game [against Penrith] and we didn’t really play our style of footy, but the last two weeks we have knuckled down to be the type of team that we know we can be.

“If we can repeat what we have been doing the last two weeks hopefully we can push through and win. We have got such a big fan base and so many loyal fans who have been waiting for this week so hopefully we can win for them.”

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National Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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