The Broncos are banking on Kodi Nikorima firing at halfback in 2018 but the Kiwis are also in his corner and just as keen for one of their rising stars to succeed.
Former New Zealand half Gary Freeman insists the 23-year-old has the game to play in the halves long term for the Kiwis and that playing just one position this season will be a win/win for Nikorima’s club and nation.
Nikorima got his chance in the halves in last year’s Anzac Test and during the World Cup and Freeman told NRL.com that his success was vital to boost depth in a key position.
If Kieran Foran can stay injury free and return to his best then there is a good chance he will be in the mix to return to the Test side to partner Shaun Johnson, a duo which won five games straight together from the start of the Four Nations in 2014 through to the Anzac Test the following year, including three wins over Australia.
But success has proven elusive since with a multitude of duos being used, and the future halves combination is still up for grabs.
“Stacey Jones had a magnificent career for New Zealand but whenever he was injured the side would suffer when there was no-one there to take his spot,” Freeman, who played 45 Tests for New Zealand, said.
“I am looking at all the NRL clubs with an eye on New Zealand and it is clear we need depth in the five-eighth/half spot and a sprinkling of young kids coming through like Nikorima and Te Maire Martin at the Cowboys.
“Kodi has been the ideal ‘Mr Fix It’, but now if he can show halfback leadership around the ruck area for Brisbane that will give him a good shot at getting back into the Kiwis and playing a leading role.
“He hasn’t yet cemented one position, so this is his opportunity to take control of that footy side week-in and week-out after Wayne Bennett came out and said he is going to be his halfback, and that is only going to help New Zealand in the long run.”
NRL.com has previously reported on Bennett’s public declaration of faith in Nikorima, which the new Broncos half also revealed gave him a massive confidence boost.
Nikorima, who will likely play his first trial at halfback against the Titans in Toowoomba on February 17, told reporters after training this week how each week he was learning more and more about the control and direction he would need to display in the number seven jersey.
“It is great for my preparation just training in the one position, compared to the last couple of years where I was filling in in the halves, hooker, fullback and wing,” Nikorima said.
“It is a lot easier for me now working with my right edge, with Gillo [Matt Gillett] and Jimmy [James Roberts], in getting that combination right before we hit the deck running.
“Benny Hunt has left a big hole in this team and the big thing Benny brought to this side was his talk and his kicking game.
“That is one thing I have been working really hard on throughout the pre-season.
“I spoke to Wayne about it and that is why he has got me doing drills at the end [of training] with the forwards, talking to them. With [assistant coach] Kurt Richards, we have been doing a lot of kicking as well.”
Freeman said Nikorima was now in the position that best suited his game and backed him to succeed.
“What I like about him is that he’s got pace to burn and when he spots an opening he goes through and takes his opportunity straight away,” Freeman said.
“We’ve seen a lot of halves over the years stand and deliver the ball and organise but when you have blistering speed and acceleration like he does it is a real blessing, because not a lot of halves have that.
“That is so hard to combat when you are a forward and tiring at the back end of a game.
“I think this role will suit him because if his forwards get a roll-on Kodi will dominate that ruck, take the line on more and put a lot of pressure on the opposition.”