Big things are expected from pint-sized Kodi Nikorima after Wayne Bennett predicted his little men to stand tall thanks to the NRL’s new interchange laws.
New recruit James Roberts may have dominated the pre-season headlines for NRL title favourites Brisbane, as retired great Justin Hodges’ replacement.
But Nikorima has Bennett just as excited after he went from unheralded utility to Kiwi international in 2015.
“He will be a big advantage to us,” Bennett said.
“He is a lot more confident than last year after playing for the Kiwis.
“He was a good investment.”
Bennett has groomed Nikorima for 12 months and has already seen exciting results.
Nikorima went from Broncos bench warmer to starting Kiwi halfback, sparking the second Test win over England in November in the UK.
The 21-year-old again stepped up on the big stage in the UK last week, replacing suspended No.7 Ben Hunt to score two tries in Brisbane’s 42-12 thumping of Wigan in the World Club Series.
But Bennett expected Nikorima to find another gear coming off the bench in 2016 after the NRL opted to cut interchanges from 10 to eight.
“The interchange rule, that will have the biggest impact,” Bennett said ahead of Thursday night’s NRL season opener in Parramatta.
“It will impact the little players as they get more room to move when the big blokes get tired.”
Bennett hopes his patience with super sub Nikorima pays off this year, just as it did with pivot Anthony Milford in 2015.
Milford went from shy newcomer to dominant playmaker last year, almost inspiring an NRL grand final win for Brisbane against North Queensland.
As much as Milford has improved, Bennett could see the young gun truly blossom this year alongside halfback Hunt.
“He (Milford) has come so far that you guys don’t bag him any more – that’s a long way isn’t it?” Bennett smirked.
“Anthony has a wonderful year behind him and him and Ben are only going to get better playing together.
“You may not see it this week but over the period of this year you’ll see them get more confident with each other, Darius (Boyd) will get more confident with them.
“There’s a rub-off effect that if they’ve got their attitude right, you’ll see the benefit.”