The New Zealand Warriors are seven weeks out from the start of their NRL season, but as coach Nathan Brown starts to get a handle on what his best side looks like, one puzzle stands out. Michael Burgess reports.
Kodi Nikorima wants to shed his mercurial tag in 2022 and the progress in that area will be pivotal to the Warriors' fortunes.
Nikorima is an undoubted talent, but has been a frustrating watch since he came to Mt Smart in May 2019.
There have been plenty of eye-catching games, but also too many muted performances, where he has struggled to stamp his authority on the match.
The 27-year-old can be dynamic, with his natural flair and searing pace, but not often enough.
Nikorima was a marquee signing but hasn't established himself as the Warriors' senior half, hence the pursuit of Shaun Johnson and Ash Taylor.
The 15-test Kiwi doesn't shirk the issue and is refreshingly honest when asked about his major focus for the 2022 season.
"Trying to be a more consistent player, instead of one of those players who plays a good game and then maybe have a setback," said Nikorima
"So trying to minimise the gap between my best and worst game. A perfect example is Tohu Harris who's been very consistent over the years and probably got better the older he's got. I look at someone like him to judge my game moving forward."
On his day Nikorima can be a Rolls Royce footballer, but the Warriors need the steady reliability of a Toyota Corolla every week, especially in the spine.
Getting the best out of Nikorima – and finding his optimal position – is one of the Warriors' biggest puzzles for 2022.
Nikorima left the Broncos for the Warriors to play in the halves and filled that role in 2019.
But he was relegated to dummy half at the start of 2020, with Chanel Harris-Tavita getting the nod.
Nikorima returned to five eighth when the season restarted and was the No 1 half heading into 2021, with Blake Green's absence, but wasn't a dominant presence and was relegated to an interchange role for the final third of the season, starting only one of the last eight matches in the halves.
His role for this season has yet to be defined.
"I've been training in the halves and I've done a little bit of work at nine," said Nikorima. "I'll also happily jump in at fullback. It takes me back to when I first came in at the Broncos, when I used to bounce between different positions."
Similar to Lance Hohaia, Nikorima's capacity to play multiple roles has been a blessing and a curse.
More than one third of his 140 NRL appearance have been in a bench utility role (52), usually at hooker, followed by 43 games apiece at halfback and five eighth and a couple of matches at fullback.
Nikorima doesn't particularly enjoy switching positions but is philosophical.
"It's something that I've been accustomed to," said Nikorima. "I always come into a preseason wanting to be in the halves, but if [the coach] wants to go a different direction or he sees me helping the team elsewhere, then I'll happily do that.
"I've always been one of those players who will always put the team first."
That's why Nikorima is positive about the arrival of Shaun Johnson and Ash Taylor, even though they are adding to the competition in his preferred position.
"I want to win games and obviously getting these players in [helps]," said Nikorima. "There's a lot of competition and that's what you need.
"You can't come in thinking that you've already got a spot cemented and you have blokes pushing each other all over the park. All these signings, especially in our spine, are going to be beneficial for all of us moving forward."
Warriors coach Nathan Brown has yet to fix on Nikorima's likely position, seven weeks out from the opening round.
"I probably couldn't give you a 100 per cent honest answer", said Brown. "All I know is that he will certainly contribute to the squad but how it looks and where it looks, form and injuries will probably play a part."