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Seven-year reunion: Nikorima boys embrace Maori moment

Jayden Nikorima had a photo of his brother scoring a try as the screensaver on his phone during his seven years in the NRL wilderness and he will again be looking to Kodi for inspiration in his return match for the Maori All Stars on Saturday night at CommBank Stadium.

Kodi, the Warriors and Kiwis playmaker, will co-captain the Maori team with Canberra forward Joseph Tapine, while Jayden has been named on the interchange.

It will be the first time the brothers have played together since the 2014 NYC grand final and the All Stars clash is also Jayden’s first match at the elite level since 2015 after receiving a mandatory 12-match ban and being sacked by Sydney Roosters for a second strike under the NRL’s illicit drugs policy.

Jayden has also endured an injury-plagued stint with Redcliffe Dolphins in the QRL’s Hostplus Cup and he used a photo of Kodi’s 2017 try for Brisbane against Penrith as inspiration to keep working towards an NRL comeback.

Jayden Nikorima is preparing for his first game at the elite level in seven years
Jayden Nikorima is preparing for his first game at the elite level in seven years ©David Hossack/NRL Photos

However, Jayden’s life has turned around after the birth of son, Mali, in November coincided with a one-year Storm deal - although he never imagined his redemption story would begin with the Maori All Stars under Kodi's captaincy.

“I’m sure Jayden wasn’t thinking about this at all,” Kodi says as he eyes his 25-year-old brother, who is sitting across the table from him after the Maori team’s first haka practice for Saturday night.

“Jayden was probably just concentrating on playing first grade at Melbourne and trying to play consistent footy there. I am sure this would have caught him off guard but Jayden being here now, he definitely doesn’t look out of place.”

The brothers are virtually inseparable in camp and the bond they share is obvious from the training field to their takeover of the NRL’s Instagram account as they interacted with fans on Tuesday night.

Maori coach David Kidwell allowed Kodi to break the news of Jayden’s selection in a phone call to his brother, who said he initially thought it was a “gee up”.

However, Kidwell also had a surprise in store for Kodi when he announced to the squad before their first training session on Tuesday that the 28-year-old would co-captain the Maori team with Tapine.

“He just announced it in front of the group and got me and Joey up. It caught me off guard, but I am definitely proud and it is a big achievement,” Kodi said.

“I was in shock, to be honest, but having time to reflect, it is pretty special for me to represent my culture, my family and to lead this group of men out there.

Maori co-captains Joey Tapine and Kodi Nikorima
Maori co-captains Joey Tapine and Kodi Nikorima ©Grant Trouville/NRL Photos

“It is obviously such an honour. I have never captained the team before and to co-captain with Joey, who I played under 20s with and have played Kiwis with, is pretty special and I am keen to go out there and lead the boys around.”

Adding to the emotion of the occasion is the fact that Jayden will be in the team and he is expected to spend some time during the match either playing alongside Kodi in the halves or passing the ball to him from dummy half.

“We may not get this opportunity again, so I am just trying to embrace it for what it is,” Jayden said.

“It has taken seven years to get here and one thing I have learned on this journey is that when opportunities arise to take them with both hands because they may not come again so if you are not putting your best effort forward it is a wasted opportunity.”

With COVID protocols effectively confining the Maori squad to a restricted area of their Olympic Park hotel, where the Sri Lankan cricket team is also staying, players have been forced to spend most of their free time together in the team room.

Unreal All Stars: Maori set tone with powerful haka

It is unlikely to have made any difference to Kodi and Jayden as they make up for lost time.

“It’s been fun,” Jayden said after their first training session together. “In the warm-up were kicking the ball together, which we haven’t done for a while, so it is still pretty surreal.

“I am trying to get the most out of this camp and learn more about my Maori side, which I feel I have disconnected a little bit from.

“I am thoroughly enjoying this week and I am looking forward to getting in the deep end and playing some footy alongside Kodi.

“When I got sacked, I moved back to Brisbane to live with my parents and I had no licence, as well, so I leant on my parents a lot. My parents helped me and helped guide me through but Kodi has always been an inspiration for me from a young age.

Rd 9: TRY Kodi Nikorima (11th min)

“He has always been the one to try and push me to get me back on this path where I am now, so I am just grateful that I have got an older brother who loves me.

“I used to have him as my screensaver – it was when he scored the try against Penrith.”

That image of Kodi has now been replaced by one of Mali, who Jayden was initially separated from after moving to Melbourne for pre-season training with the Storm.

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A post shared by Jayden Nikorima (@jaydennikorima)

With fiancée Christa and Mali now having joined him, Jayden is settled at the Storm and hoping to make his debut for the club in the round one match against Wests Tigers as Cameron Munster and Brandon Smith are suspended.

“The pre-season has been tough," he said. “My family was back in Brisbane, I just had a new born baby and after every Facetime call I would go to bed thinking ‘this is for you guys’.

"I just want to do the best I can do, be the best person I can be, and do my family proud.”

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