If Albert Nikoro hadn’t been a high achiever in the classroom, he may never have found his way onto the rugby field.
A teenager at Mt Albert Grammar, Nikoro spent his time playing soccer and league. He didn’t even think about rugby until striking a deal with his fourth form maths teacher.
Nikoro was only allowed into the advanced maths programme if he trialled for the team his teacher coached.
His striking pace and mammoth boot saw him adapt to the 15-man game with ease.
In his brief yet successful time in rugby, injuries have plagued Nikoro but as he returns to the field in 2014, he is hoping to make his mark in a backline bursting with talent.
“This pre-season has been a bit overwhelming,” said Nikoro.
“I hadn’t been able to do a lot of running and then came back into the team and had a whole lot of running dumped on me. After the first week I got into the groove of it.
“I knew I would have to be working harder than everyone else to get back up to speed. Going into the first game a few weeks ago was a bit scary but I got through it and felt confident afterwards.”
Nikoro was a schoolboy superstar after taking up the game in 2007. He made the New Zealand Secondary Schools team in both his sixth and seventh form years. In 2011 there was a lot of anticipation about his graduation into ITM Cup only to be struck down with an ACL injury playing for his club, Papatoetoe.
The injury threw a spanner in the works, leaving Nikoro out of New Zealand Under 20 camps and cancelling any possible involvement in the 2011 ITM Cup.
“An injury like that definitely brings doubt into your mind. When you are recovering and trying to get back into it you don’t know if you will be able to; I wasn’t sure if I would get my speed back,” said Nikoro.
Missing out on the New Zealand Under 20 team in 2012 was hard for Nikoro, but he said it ended up being a blessing in disguise.
“I got a call from Pat (Lam) asking me to join the Blues squad. It was really random because I didn’t realise I was in contention,” he said.
His call up was for injury cover, and saw him fly to Australia for his Super Rugby debut.
“I was told the game would be ten times faster than anything I was used to and just to try and hang in there. Being in that environment really gave me a taste for it.”
Nikoro was given a Wider Training Group contract last year and picked up three more Blues caps before being ruled out with another ACL injury.
“I’d been in the professional environment and had that taste and then it was sort of taken away. It’s hard to be out of that team environment all of a sudden.”
Nikoro said having recovered from the same injury before gave him the confidence that he would be able to do it again.
Now back to full fitness, he is loving being back in the team and surrounded by a backline peppered with talent.
“We’re a really close group, so that’s cool and its good being with players that have lots of experience. You see guys like Charles and Francis make the All Blacks and that is motivation for yourself.”
Nikoro has produced a number of strong performances during the pre-season and will be looking for another impressive hit-out against the Chiefs on Friday in the Blues’ final pre-season game.