The ink is barely dry on the contract and Kodi Nikorima has not even laced up a boot for the Warriors, but he is already one of the most controversial signings in the club’s history.
The acquisition of the Brisbane and incumbent New Zealand Test halfback on a two-and-a-half year deal was confirmed this afternoon, to the surprise of no one – and the chagrin of many.
The negative reaction and scepticism has been overwhelming and baffling.
The timing is perhaps odd, with rookie Chanel Harris-Tavita starting to find his feet in first grade. It’s a risky move that may ultimately back-fire. But there are several reasons why Warriors fans should be optimistic about the playmaker’s arrival.
Ultra exclusive announcement 😜
It's official. Nikorima ➡️ @NZWarriors
— Vodafone Warriors (@NZWarriors) May 3, 2019
Nikorima brings plenty of what the Warriors don’t have
When Shaun Johnson was squeezed out at the end of last year, much of the Warriors’ speed, game-breaking ability and unpredictability went with him.
Roger Tuivasa-Sheck and to a lesser extent Issac Luke aside, the Warriors’ roster is slow. It lacks genuine spark in comparison to just about every other NRL rival.
Kodi Nikorima helps alleviate those attacking deficiencies. Last year for the Broncos he scored 10 tries, made 12 line-breaks and had 11 try-assists. Already in seven games in 2019 – during which time he has copped an unfair share of the blame for the Broncos’ woes – he has scored two tries and produced four try-assists. He also averages 85 running metres per game.
— NRL (@NRL) April 21, 2019
The Warriors’ halves have one try and four try-assists combined so far this season.
Nikorima isn’t coming to Auckland to be Cooper Cronk – but he can add considerably to an offence that is relying far too heavily on everywhere-man RTS at present. The 25-year-old also brings the experience of 86 NRL games (including a grand final) and 13 Tests, and his kicking game and defensive capabilities are much better than some would have you believe.
At the start of the season TWL outlined the area the Warriors attack may struggle without Johnson: producing unstructured tries from outside the opposition’s 20-metre area. In six games without Johnson last year, all of the Warriors’ tries originated from inside the 20.
Lo and behold, of the Warriors’ 22 tries (a very modest tally) so far in 2019, just four have started from a play-the-ball outside the 20 – two of them solely due to Tuivasa-Sheck’s electrifying ball-running.
The 2-5 Warriors are in a dire position as far as their finals prospect go; the injection of Nikorima’s off-the-cuff flash could prove the X-factor to turn their campaign around.
— NRL (@NRL) April 11, 2019
The Warriors are a good fit for Nikorima
Like the episode of Seinfeld when Jerry can’t get past the fact the woman he’s dating was once dumped by Newman, there’s always a sense of trepidation taking on a player unwanted by their current club.
But Nikorima and marquee five-eighth Anthony Milford were a terrible match at the Broncos. Both game-breaking, free-running live-wires, neither is particularly adept at consistently steering a team around and controlling the tempo of a game.
A combination of Nikorima and Blake Green provides an ideal balance; for the first time in Nikorima’s NRL tenure as a halfback he can shed the millstone of trying to run his team.
Excited about Kodi Nikorima playing for the @NZWarriors.
It’s clear in the NRL you need one organising half and one to play off the cuff footy. Brisbane had two of the latter but no organiser, they were doomed from the get go.
Nikorima playing with Blake Green, different story.
— Jack Blyth (@jblesfooty224) May 3, 2019
The notion that Nikorima was given time to establish himself as the Broncos’ halfback is also a bit of a fallacy. His first NRL game in the halves was in Round 7 of 2017 and he only started 13 games in the No.7 with Ben Hunt still at the club.
He played 21 of the Broncos’ 25 games at halfback last year (he was benched in favour of Jack Bird for a three-game stint) playing under Wayne Bennett’s clunky style of the halves frequently getting the ball at second-receiver from their forwards, then a handful of outings this year under a new coach in a team that has been an all-round shambles.
And being the halfback in a misfiring Broncos team in the Brisbane fishbowl is arguably even more claustrophobic than the Warriors equivalent.
The Shaun Johnson era tells us that the high-profile Nikorima will get the blame if the Warriors struggle for direction and polish – despite Green being the chief organiser.
But if fans are realistic about what Nikorima’s strengths are, and the rest of the team does their job, he should flourish without the organisational burden. Yes, that was also said about Johnson when Green arrived last year – but only poor judges with predetermined agendas thought SJ was substandard in 2018.
Nikorima is good value and there’s not a lot of other options out there
Nikorima’s reported $500,000-a-year deal puts him around the bottom end of the competition’s top-20 highest-paid halves.
Compared to the supposed coin halves with similarly flighty reputations are on, such as Milford ($900,000), Johnson ($1 million), Mitchell Moses ($850,000), Hunt ($1.2 million) and Corey Norman ($750,000, though he would have been on $900,000 if he stayed with the Eels), Nikorima is a steal – regardless of whether or not it was double his current Broncos deal.
The other factors are Blake Green likely retiring when he comes off contract at the end of 2020 and the dearth of quality halves potentially becoming available next year or the year after.
— Corey Rosser (@CoreyRosser23) May 3, 2019
The Warriors would have to pay far too much for a high-risk option such as Moses. Most viable targets are happy at their current clubs and already sewn up for several years. Enticing an exciting off-contract prospect like Clint Gutherson is a pipe dream – he wants to be a fullback and would only uproot from Sydney for massive overs.
Likewise boom colts like Tom Dearden, who have been nurtured by their clubs from a young age and would be almost impossible to lure for a reasonable price.
Kodi Nikorima isn’t the answer for the Warriors halves issue. The kid Dearden who hasn’t been picked in first grade yet would be a cheaper and better bet.
— Play the Ball (@playtheballnz) April 28, 2019
Harris-Tavita has big upside and shapes as the future of the club. He will benefit from a softly-softly development process over the next 18 months. Given Green’s injury troubles, he’s likely to see plenty of top-grade action anyway.
Like it or not, at this stage Adam Keighran is at the level of a Mason Lino-like back-up. He may mature into a quality player – remember Green struggled to impose himself at Parramatta, Cronulla and Canterbury, only becoming an NRL star at 28 after four seasons in Super League – but he’s not the answer in the medium-term.
The Warriors couldn’t afford to sleep on this opportunity.
Nikorima has mates at the Warriors
Stephen Kearney, a long-serving assistant coach at the Broncos, knows what he’s getting with Nikorima. Ditto strength and conditioning guru Alex Corvo. They know the footballing qualities he brings and his character off the field.
Kearney also handed Nikorima his Test debut in 2015 and his next three Kiwi jerseys. And now he gets to work with Stacey Jones.
During his international career, Nikorima has combined regularly with Tuivasa-Sheck and Luke – associations that will ease his transition into a new team. He’s also played Test footy with both Warriors wingers, teamed up with Peta Hiku in the halves against England and played alongside Adam Blair 49 times at the Broncos.
He’ll slot in seamlessly. Hopefully the Warriors’ fanbase give him a chance.
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With my move now official I want to thank a few people…firstly to Paul and Anthony for understanding and accepting my wish to take on a new challenge at the @nzwarriors . To all of the @brisbanebroncos staff, past and present, during my time at the club. To the boys – we have shared so many good times. I am sad of course to leave but know our relationships will continue long after we have hung up the boots! To the Bronx Nation – your support throughout my career has been outstanding and means so much to me, thank you! This club has given me so much & I will be forever grateful for that. & most importantly my partner and FAMILY who have supported me through all the highs & lows in my career so far 🙌🏾 Looking ahead now I can’t wait to get across to the @nzwarriors A new chapter, a new adventure and a footy club I have always had a massive affection for. Can’t wait to meet all of you and get started!! #WeAreWarriors