CANTERBURY CONNECTION: BRISBANE BRONCOS
A powerhouse virtually since entering the premiership in 1988 – winning six premierships in their first 19 seasons – the Brisbane Broncos traditionally avoided dipping into the New Zealand market until fairly recently.
But there have been a handful of Canterbury rugby league products and Christchurch-born stars that have donned the maroon, gold and white jumper.
Blockbusting centre/back-rower Tonie Carroll was born in Christchurch but moved to south-east Queensland as a youngster and played his junior football with Waterford in Logan City. Carroll broke through for his Broncos debut in 1996, before scoring the last-minute match-winner in his maiden Origin appearance for Queensland two years later.
After a starring role in the Broncos’ 1998 and 2000 grand final triumphs, the hard-hitting utility signed with Leeds Rhinos and switched his allegiance to New Zealand, scoring four tries in five matches of the Kiwis’ 2000 World Cup campaign.
Carroll returned to the Broncos – and the Maroons’ Origin line-up – in 2003, while he became one of the very few players to represent New Zealand and Australia when he played the first of seven Tests for the Kangaroos in 2004.
He featured prominently in another premiership success in 2006 and extended his Origin record to 18 matches the following season, before finally hanging up the boots in 2009 with 55 tries from 218 first-grade games for the Broncos to his name.
Towering forward Robert Tanielu – a 197cm enforcer who played at around the 114-kilo mark – was born in Christchurch and came through the ranks at the Sydenham club before representing the Junior Kiwis in 2001. He won selection for Queensland Residents in 2002 while playing for Brisbane’s feeder club Toowoomba Clydesdales, and although he played just one game for the Broncos, it was one to savour.
The 19-year-old Tanielu was one of six debutants and scored a try as the Origin-depleted ‘Baby Broncos’ pulled off one of the great NRL upsets, rolling Wests Tigers 28-12.
The giant prop had further stints with Melbourne and North Queensland, but retired in early-2007 following medical advice after sustaining the second serious neck injury of his career.
Addington Magpies junior and Junior Kiwis rep Joe Clarke was contracted to the Broncos for several seasons but was unable to break through for an NRL debut. He linked with North Queensland Cowboys in 2007 before gaining a release mid-season to return to Brisbane with Wynnum-Manly Sea Eagles. Clarke tragically passed away that season just weeks before his 22nd birthday, leaving the Canterbury Rugby League community and his many friends at the Broncos heartbroken.
Marist Western Suburbs and Hornby junior Kaine Manihera represented New Zealand Maori and the Canterbury Bulls before joining Queensland Cup outfit Redcliffe Dolphins. After scoring a try for Queensland Residents in an Origin curtain-raiser in 2008, the robust winger received a stunning NRL call-up to Wayne Bennett’s Broncos line-up.
An injury to Justin Hodges saw Origin winger Darius Boyd shift to the centres, and Manihera played nine straight first-grade games on the end of the Broncos’ star-studded backline, scoring two tries. But Hodges returned on the eve of the finals, ending Manihera’s two-month stint in the NRL spotlight.
Manihera continued to ply his trade in Queensland, turning out for Burleigh Bears and even going as far afield as playing for Keas in the Mount Isa competition.
Kodi Nikorima was born in Palmerston North but played some junior footy in Canterbury for Burnham Chevaliers. An exciting attacking dynamo at fullback, hooker or in the halves, Nikorima starred alongside brother Jayden in the Broncos’ NYC team that went down in the 2014 Grand Final to the Warriors, before representing the Junior Kiwis in a memorable victory over the Junior Kangaroos at the end of the season.
The livewire enjoyed a breakout 2015 season, playing 20 games as the Broncos’ interchange utility – including the epic grand final loss to the Cowboys – before featuring in all three Tests of the Kiwis’ away series against England, including two starts at halfback.
Nikorima played in the 2016 and ’17 Anzac Tests, and after an injury-interrupted sophomore season in the NRL, he broke a run of 37 games off the bench since his Broncos debut by stepping in for injured No.7 star Ben Hunt in 2017. He assumed the key halfback role from the departed Hunt at the start of 2018 and has played 60 NRL games and eight Tests for the Kiwis.
Seeing no way past Anthony Milford, Hunt and his older brother for a first grade gig, Junior Kangaroos rep Jayden Nikorima left the Broncos for the Roosters at the end of 2015 and played seven NRL games for the Roosters.
Aranui junior Jamayne Isaako made his NRL debut for the Broncos at fullback in a mid-season win over Newcastle in 2017 after starring as a prolific point-scorer for InTrust Super Cup side Souths Logan Magpies.
That would be Isaako’s only top-grade appearance in 2017, but he began the following season on the wing and has held his spot with a series of confident and classy performances. Isaako assumed the goalkicking duties in Round 2 after fellow Kiwi Jordan Kahu suffered a broken jaw, kicking 12 goals from 13 attempts in four games.
The 21-year-old’s most impressive performance came in the club’s golden point win over Wests Tigers, slotting four goals from as many attempts – including the match-winning penalty goal in extra-time – and a clutch field goal.