A childhood dream comes full circle for Kodi Nikorima today in Brisbane.
Although the Kiwis halfback will always be closely associated with the Broncos — he was based at the Queensland club since he was 12 years old and played 86 NRL games for them — his first sporting love was the Warriors.
As a budding league player in Christchurch, Nikorima devoutly followed the Warriors as a kid. His bedroom wall was adorned with posters of halfback Stacey Jones, and getting special leeway to watch the 2002 grand final, featuring the Warriors and Roosters late at night on television, remains one of his most vivid childhood memories.
"Not many people know this but I grew up going for the Warriors," Nikorima told the Weekend Herald.
"I was a big Stacey Jones fan, Ali Lauitiiti as well. I was eight years old when they made the 2002 grand final."
"My dad said [that] to watch the game, I had to have a nap in the arvo, because of the time difference, it started really late [10pm].
"I remember I went to bed — I don't think I slept — but he gave me a time I had to wake up. I woke up so excited for that GF. They didn't get the result then but I always remember that ... the Warriors have always had a place in my heart."
That makes today's match against the Dragons in Brisbane special, as Nikorima becomes the 236th player to represent the Auckland club.
"It will be pretty emotional, knowing I have my family there to watch my first game in Warriors colours," said Nikorima, whose Brisbane-based parents and partner were on hand on Thursday to present him with his jersey. "I am really excited to put on this Warriors jersey."
He stayed with close friend Adam Blair last week — "he was calling me [in Brisbane], telling me how excited he was, and what we could do" — but will soon shift into a short-term apartment, with his family set to arrive in one or two months.
Nikorima has had only two training sessions to work with halves partner Blake Green but is confident about the new combination.
"I thought I slotted in nicely there besides Blake," said Nikorima. "He has been pretty tremendous for me this week and I feel he will be good for me moving forward. He's a big talker, an organiser, that general type, a typical halfback which will help free up my game and bring out the best in me, which is my running game."
Nikorima has been given a free role — able to play on both sides of the ruck — similar to how Shaun Johnson was used last year. As well as being a natural fit for Nikorima, his presence should take some pressure off Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, with the extra focus from the defensive line on Nikorima.
"Blake [has] told me to roam and run the ball," said Nikorima. "He has taken ownership of controlling the forwards and I'll be sniffing around him. And hopefully with me being there, it allows guys like Roger to do their thing and hopefully I can free Roger up as well. It's exciting times; not just for myself but for the Warriors team as well."
Given the situation the Warriors find themselves in, and their difficulties in the spine this year, Nikorima's debut against the Dragons will be closely scrutinised. Even though no one player can be the saviour of any NRL team, the 25-year-old is seen by many as the ace in the pack, the man who can help change the Warriors' fortunes in 2019.
"That's nice to hear, people having their prediction," said Nikorima. "I've been at a club before where expectations are through the roof. [The] Broncos are probably the No1 club where they expect you to be in the finals and play good footy every week, and if you don't, you get hammered.
"It's similar to the Warriors in being the only New Zealand team. I don't let that stuff get to me; if I am doing my best and doing my role within the team, and everyone else around me does their job ... results should go your way."