The fight to return to the first grade began for Jayden Nikorima when most NRL players had their feet up and were holidaying in October 2016.
He showed glimpses of his potential in his debut year for the Sydney Roosters, lighting up the field against St Helens at Totally Wicked Stadium [Langtree Park] in the World Club Series, before consecutive hamstring injuries ended his season prematurely.
Nikorima had no luck the year before either when he played in the Brisbane Broncos' Holden Cup side, injuring his shoulder to be sidelined for the back end of the season.
There is nothing more frustrating for a rising-star than limited game time, which is why the 20-year-old extended an already long pre-season in order to play for the tricolours for the first time since Round 7 last year.
“I did my hamstring three times and ended up calling my year early over it, and I started pre-season a couple of weeks early to get my fitness right so that I wouldn’t be behind the boys on day one,” Nikorima says to NSWRL.com.au.
“The year before I did my shoulder halfway through the year, so in that period I only played six or so games which was quite frustrating.
“It was my second or third full pre-season, and I was fully fit; I guess the more pre season’s you get under your belt the better you’re going to be.”
Nikorima has been playing for the Wyong Roos to start the season, playing five-eighth in all four games and steering his side to three victories, with the side suffering their first defeat yesterday to the Penrith Panthers.
While an NRL comeback is the ultimate goal, Nikorima admits there is a mountain of work to do before he is conditioned and ready to play at the top once again.
He lives in Sydney, but doesn’t mind travelling to Wyong on a weekly basis if it means earning the right to play under Trent Robinson and alongside fellow young stars Latrell Mitchell, Connor Watson, and more recently, Joseph Manu.
“The travel is all right, it’s a bit tough travelling an hour and a half, but you’ve got to earn playing first grade week in, week out; I haven’t earned that yet,” Nikorima says.
“I’ve got to play better than what we did today [to get back into first grade] and to I’ve got to play consistent footy and enjoy my footy [with] my style of play.
“It’s good to get a few games under my belt, but I’m still not where I want to be yet. “
“If Robbo [Trent Robinson] gives me an opportunity, I’ll take it with both hands.”
A visibly exhausted Nikorima - sporting a bleeding cut on his right eye - was clearly disappointed with the Roos’ performance yesterday.
He credits not only the Panthers' Intrust Super Premiership side, but also the club as a whole for their performances across all three grades.
“I copped [the gash] on my eye in the first 20 minutes, it’s alright now it’s closing up,” Nikorima says.
“It was a tough game, Penrith are always a good side.
“Their NRL side is in the top four as well, they’ve got a strong forward pack and they won it through the middle early.”
Trent Robinson frequently attends Wyong Roos games to cast his eye over certain players.
Roosters’ assistant coach Matt King was at Pepper Stadium yesterday for the same reason and Nikorima has another chance to impress the coaching staff when they take on Illawarra at Morry Breen Oval on Saturday.