Even though England ended up being too good for Aotearoa across a three game series, there wasn't exactly a shortage of encouraging signs in the Shaun Johnson/Kodi Nikorima halves combo. After Nikorima and Te Maire Martin were alright vs England, Johnson and Nikorima rolled out a slick performance against Australia and continued to build on their chemistry and control in a vastly different environment.
New coach Michael Maguire was the guy bringing everything together and the halves combination for the end of year footy, reflected the overall vibe of the Kiwis under coach Maguire. Considering the options available and the competition to seal a consistent Kiwis halves role, these are exciting times for rugby league in Aotearoa as Aotearoa and the Polynesian nations have never had such play-making depth.
That baseline of there being plenty of depth and sizzling competition for spots, takes on a whole new funky tinge when we consider the immense change that has occurred over the summer in the NRL. I wouldn't quite go as far as going full hundies on this idea, however I do believe we shouldn't hold on too tightly to any previous ideas, thoughts, vibes or judgements we had about Kiwis halves candidates.
Let's start with Johnson, who now plays for Cronulla Sharks. No one really knows how Johnson is going to perform for the Sharks and whether he will genuinely be able to shake off the 'he goes missing' type of perception. This is an opportunity for Johnson to hit a nek level, to grow as a half, although the Sharks aren't exactly a stable club at the moment either.
Specifically with Johnson, we have some uncertainty around his true ability as a half along with the antics surrounding Cronulla Sharks. No one knows how this move for Johnson will pan out, yet everybody and especially Aotearoa Kiwis fans, will be paying close attention to Johnson's first 10 games in the Shire.
As for Nikorima, well he bid Wayne Bennett ka kite and gave Anthony Seibold the ol' haere mai. Changing coaches wouldn't normally be such an interesting note in this context, however there was an underlying lack of combination between Nikorima and Anthony Milford at Brisbane Broncos while Bennett was coach. Nikorima flourished as a bench utility in their Grand Final run of 2016, outside of that though the Nikorima/Milford combo had moments of excellence and meh.
Now Nikorima has Seibold in charge and although Seibold wasn't responsible for all the attacking improvements at South Sydney Rabbitohs prior to the 2018 season, the 2018 Rabbitohs were damn slick with Seibold as coach. With that in mind, there will surely be improvements in how Nikorima combines with Milford and Nikorima as a player himself, leading to the reasonable possibility that Nikorima hits a nek level.
I haven't even mentioned Kieran Foran's name yet. If you're reading this, you have an appreciation for rugby league and anyone of that ilk, has most likely had a whirlwind of thoughts/opinions about Foran over the last two years. Whether you're an Aotearoa Warriors fan, a Parramatta Eels fan, a Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs fan or solely an Aotearoa Kiwis fan; Foran has been on your mind way too much at some stage during this period.
Now, I feel rather content in believing that Foran will be at the very least a solid operator in the halves for the Bulldogs this season. That starts with being healthy, then Foran will be eager to prove a point and he'll also probably be operating alongside Lachlan Lewis who looks to have nice potential
This is essentially a make or break season for Foran, well for the Foran we've come to view as one of the greatest Kiwis halves ever. Should Foran wish to stamp his authority on that title, he needs to get back to his best this season and I'm leaning towards him getting their slowly throughout the first half of the season. Given the talent coming through the Kiwis ranks, a steady/job-doing Foran who is still plagued by injury, may not rep Aotearoa again.
The idea of writing this thingy was on the draft board a few days ago, so it's a coincidence that yet another NRL player got into strife. All of that shit has reached catastrophic levels for the NRL and could reflect the issues of young men, predominantly in Australia and also in Aotearoa. No real surprises with alcohol is legal though and culture is built around alcohol consumption - herb is the way to go.
I digress; Ben Barba's gone and Te Maire Martin may not be a North Queensland Cowboys halves contender. I'm no Cowboys expert, but without Barba, the Cowboys may opt to play Michael Morgan with Jake Clifford, thus pushing Martin to fullback and Martin's move to Townsville has done little to boost his Kiwis halves aspirations.
Martin dabbled in the halves last season, while also playing fullback and dummy half. For him to make waves in the Kiwis depth chart, Martin needs to be playing in the halves for North Queensland. There's too much fullback depth (Roger Tuivasa-Sheck and Dallin Watene-Zelezniak omg) and dummy half depth (Issac Luke, Brandon Smith, Danny Levi, Slade Griffin etc) to even consider a part-timer like Martin.
Next best is for Martin to simply be playing NRL footy every week and continuing to develop as a professional rugby league player. Aotearoa needs that level of depth and the nature of international footy means that we need someone like Martin in the bag, ready to be an option in a few positions should various players be unavailable.
There are a few youngsters to keep an eye on and Jahrome Hughes at Melbourne Storm. Not quite a young up and comer, but a very exciting half/fullback who is held in high regard at the Storm. I won't go hundies here because I want to sit back and see where Hughes fits into the Storm backline with fullback and a halves spot both up for grabs. Hughes is an exciting talent though and the Wellingtonian will undoubtedly look to build on a 2018 season that saw him crack the Kiwis squad.
Parramatta Eels prospect Dylan Brown is the main joker to watch out for early this season. Most will know Brown's name from rumours about the Warriors trying to recruit him as part of the Johnson situation, but Brown who hails from Whangarei is shaping as a contender to start in the halves for round one, partnering Mitchell Moses.
Brown partnered Warriors prospect Paul Turner in the halves for Northern Swords Under 15s, before moving across the ditch and there is no shortage of low key hype surrounding his move into NRL footy. Brown is just a name to note down as he won't come into Kiwis calculations for a while, however his emergence is another sign of the #KiwiNRL depth that is brewing across all positions.
Hit an ad to support the Aotearoa Kiwis content.
And please support the Niche Cache was we try to build our base on Patreon. Support the underdogs as best you can, a little goes a long way.
Peace and love 27.