New Zealand winger Jamayne Isaako will be driven by a higher purpose in the World Cup Rugby League Nines this weekend.

While he is thrilled to be back in the Kiwis fold, after missing the cut for the Tonga test in June, the plight of his seriously ill father has helped to put sport - and life - in perspective.

Issako's Dad Taai was diagnosed with incurable cancer in late June, which turned the family's life upside down.

Isaako missed a couple of NRL games — granted leave to return to New Zealand for a fortnight by the Broncos — and then spent as much time as he could back in Christchurch during the rest of the season.


It affected the 23-year-old on and off the field, quite understandably, and Isaako struggled to reach the heights he attained in 2018, when he was honoured as the NRL's rookie of the year.

"It wasn't the best year footy wise for me this year, [with the] family dramas back home in New Zealand," Isaako told D'Arcy Waldegrave on Radio Sport. "Finding out my old man had terminal cancer [and] trying to help out with him, flying back and forth, [it] was a wee bit tough this year. My focus wasn't entirely on football, I was thinking about family most of the time."

As with many players, Isaako's father has been his inspiration, on his long journey from the Aranui Eagles to one of the biggest NRL clubs in Australia.

"Family is everything to me," said Isaako. "I guess I wouldn't be here if it wasn't for my family, and my father who has pushed and driven me to be where I am today. After everything that he was facing this year I thought it was good to be in his corner and put him first."

And Isaako knows his Dad will be watching on proudly over the next few weeks, with the Nines in Sydney, then Kiwis' tests against Australia and Great Britain (two).

"He's always been happy with my achievements and I have no doubt that he is proud of what I am doing at the moment and where I am going," said Isaako. "Everything that I do is pretty much for my family so I am glad I am making him proud."

Isaako admits he "found his feet" during the latter part of the season, after the early struggles.

He had gone tryless in the first 17 rounds, then grabbed four in last nine games of the campaign.


That propelled him back into Kiwis contention, after he was left out of the squad that beat Mate Ma'a Tonga earlier this year.

Isaako, who made his Kiwis debut in Denver last year, has some Nines experience to fall back on, part of the Brisbane squad in the Auckland NRL Nines tournament in 2017.

"The lungs definitely get a workout," said Isaako. "With all the space that is going to be on the field, players just have to work a little bit harder in defence. There's lots of space [there] and a lot of quick players playing for all different countries."

The New Zealand buildup has been overshadowed by the dramas around Kiwis and Storm prop Nelson Asofa-Solomona, who is under investigation by the NRL integrity unit after an incident in a Bali bar last week.

Asofa-Solomona is likely to receive a suspension, which could rule him out of the entire international program, and Isaako has sympathy for his fellow Kiwi.

"It is a definitely a situation that you don't really want to find yourself in," said Isaako. "But for Nelson, backing up his brother and I guess standing up for his mate, I'm not really sure what the situation was or what really happened. But Nelson has the support of all of us in the Kiwis camp and hopefully he can get through this tough time."