David Skipwith is the Herald's rugby league reporter

NRL: Tawera Nikau torn between facts and fairytales

Tawera Nikau charges the Warriors defence while playing for the Cronulla Sharks. Photo / Getty
Tawera Nikau charges the Warriors defence while playing for the Cronulla Sharks. Photo / Getty

Former Sharks and Storm back-rower Tawera Nikau has a foot in both camps ahead of tomorrow's NRL grand final but jokes he left one in Cronulla.

Nikau refers to his amputated right leg in explaining his divided loyalties and although he was a part of Melbourne's historic 1999 premiership winning side he's hoping Cronulla can break their 50-year title drought.

"I do have a soft spot for the Sharks," said Nikau.

"I'm very passionate about the Storm but it could be destiny for Cronulla.

"My heart says it would be great for the Sharks to win but it's going to be a tough one and my mind says the Storm will just be too good."

The 49-year-old former Kiwis international played three seasons at the Sharks (1995-1997) and was on the losing side in their 1997 Super League grand final against Brisbane.

He is sympathetic to the Sharks, who have long struggled financially and in recent years have endured the ASADA scandal and numerous unsavoury off-field incidents.

Cronulla's geographical isolation from the rest of Sydney has contributed to an 'us against them' mentality among locals of the beach community and together these factors have contributed to the club being perceived as outsiders within the NRL.

"The Cronulla-Sutherland Shire is a really distinct area," he said.

"It's a very beautiful spot and they're very insulated out there. It's an area of southern Sydney that is untouched.

"And they're a different kind of people. But they've been through a lot of challenges and adversity over the last couple of years."

During his time in the black, white and blue, Nikau played alongside some of the Sharks greatest clubmen, including captain Andrew Ettingshausen, enforcer Les Davidson, brilliant fullback David Peachey, and a young Mat Rogers.

Despite their strong roster he laments the lack of winning culture at the club.

"They had never won anything. They had some great players and had some great times but they really didn't understand what winning was."

In 1998, Nikau shifted south into uncharted league territory, joining Melbourne for their inaugural season.

With former Kangaroos test wingers John Ribot and Chris Anderson as chief executive and coach, and Canberra and Brisbane premiership winning front-rower Glenn Lazarus as captain, the Storm quickly established a culture of success that would provide the template for the club's current crop of perennial over-achievers.

"When I got to Melbourne I really understood winning because we had a captain like Glenn Lazarus.

"He knew what it took to win consistently and he expected all of us to get to that level.

"We had some really strong values - honesty, respect, trust, work ethic - and that's the modern blueprint for the Storm.

"Over the last decade or so, Craig Bellamy has taken all of that to another level in terms of accountability. And that culture is set and driven by the players.

"If you look at the Storm now, Cameron Smith has carried on that tradition and all of their players hold themselves accountable every week."

Melbourne's unrivalled professionalism has also been vital to the rise and development of current New Zealand test forwards Tohu Harris, Kevin Proctor and the Bromwich brothers, Jesse and Kenneath, and a large contributor to the Kiwis unprecedented run of success under - you guessed it - the coaching of Nikau's fellow Storm and Kiwis teammate and new Warriors mentor, Stephen Kearney.

"The next two or three years those guys will be the leaders and the keepers of that culture and that permeates through to the Kiwis."

Despite his admiration and pride in the Storm's achievements, Nikau is hoping Sharks skipper Paul Gallen receives a deserved grand final winner's medal.

"Fifteen years and he hasn't played in a GF. When you think about those things and players that play all their lives with one club, it's a milestone event for the Sharks.

"It would be the fairy tale ending but I just think the Storm will be too professional, too clinical."

Tawera Nikau

Born: January 1, 1967, Huntly
Position: Lock
Professional playing career:
Castleford (1991-96) 165 games
Cronulla: (1995-97) 61 games
Melbourne: (1998-99) 53 games
Warrington (2000-01) 59 games
Kiwis (1989-97) 19 tests
New Zealand Maori (1986-2000)

- NZ Herald

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