Fifita’s ringing endorsement will come as little surprise to those who have watched Cronulla’s start to the season. Nikora’s performance in the second match of his career looked more like one of a player with 200 caps under his belt.
He scored a try, busted four tackles and made 131 metres from his nine carries and on the other side of the ball, made 27 tackles without missing one.
He has made his way through the Cronulla system during four years at the club and is now taking full advantage of the opportunity given to him by rookie coach John Morris.
The first “pinch me” moment of his first grade career popped up in the 20-6 win over the Titans, where he squared off against childhood hero Kevin Proctor.
“When I played against [Proctor] on the weekend I looked at him and thought, ‘I used to watch you, now I am playing against you’,” Nikora said. “It’s heaps surreal. Even just running out with all the guys I have looked up to during school. “Fifita, [Shaun] Johnson, [Josh] Dugan, I still trip out about it.”
Nikora is a product of famous Gold Coast rugby league nursery Keebra Park High but arrived at the school in a roundabout way.
The 21-year-old was born in the North Island New Zealand town of Mount Maunganui, in Tauranga, before moving to the bright lights of the Gold Coast at the age of nine.
Having grown up in the rugby mad nation, Nikora had barely watched a minute of rugby league when he arrived in Australia. Just eight years later, he was in Cronulla’s system.
“Once I moved to the Gold Coast I completely switched,” Nikora said. “Everything was league, no union. I was full into league. I just loved it, hey.”
Cronulla have loved what they’ve seen from Nikora through his first two starts. The Sharks have hardly been short on second row talent in recent years with Wade Graham and Luke Lewis running the show but with the former currently injured and the latter retired, Nikora looms as the club’s next star in that spot.
He has picked the brain of both players since arriving at the club at the end of 2015.
“Wade, Lewis last year, [Jason] Bukuya, even guys like Fifita, everyone is helping me out bit by bit,” Nikora said. “Wade and Lewi, they just taught me all the little things that I need to work on and the one percenters.
“[Graham] tells me what to look out for, what to work on, pretty much takes me under his wing and shows me what to work on.”
Nikora has clearly taken Graham’s tips and tricks on board but that hasn’t stopped him from pinching himself at training. “When I go to training sometimes I trip out that I am training with these types of fellas,” he said.
“It’s a childhood dream to play with them. I just needed to be ready, I guess.”
Sam is a sports reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald.