Aranui Eagles prodcut Jamayne Isaako celebrates his 100th NRL appearance on Thursday night, another highlight in a stellar season to date as a key member of the Dolphins captivating debut campaign.

But it’s a milestone that may have felt a fair way for the hot-stepping sharpshooter in 2022 as he struggled to consolidate a first-grade spot at Brisbane and then Gold Coast.

Isaako has enjoyed a renaissance after reuniting with coach Wayne Bennett in the Redcliffe-based Dolphins’ inaugural squad, however, helping spearhead the club’s shock 6-5 start to life in the NRL when many tipped them for a first-year wooden spoon.

Isaako linked with Brisbane in 2016, scoring 132 points in just 13 NYC games and again representing the Junior Kiwis against their Australian counterparts – this time at five-eighth.

While piling on the points for Broncos feeder club Souths Logan Magpies in the 2017 InTrust Super Cup, the 21-year-old made his NRL debut under Bennett at fullback in a win over Newcastle, his only top-grade outing of the season.

But Isaako began the 2018 season on the right wing for Brisbane and carved out a dazzling Dally M Rookie of the Year campaign. He scored 11 tries and kicked 97 goals at 82.91 percent to rack up 239 points – the second-highest tally ever for the Broncos and the most points in a season by a rookie in premiership history.

Despite his lack of top-level experience, Isaako proved himself as a match-winner with the boot and in general play. The cool-headed youngster kicked a golden point penalty goal to sink Wests Tigers in just his fourth first-grade game, while he scored an astonishing solo match-winner against Sydney Roosters that was later voted the NRL’s Try of the Year.

A few weeks later he was in Denver donning the black-and-white jersey at Test level, kicking three goals in the Kiwis’ 36-18 loss to England. Isaako was selected in New Zealand’s end-of-year squad and made his second international appearance in the third-Test thrashing of England at Elland Road after coming into the side for injured winger Jordan Rapana.

Isaako endured an early-2019 form slump with the Broncos but he turned out at fullback in Samoa’s win over Papua New Guinea midyear, booting four goals. That representative outing triggered a turnaround for Isaako, who finished the NRL season in superb touch to earn a place in the Kiwis’ World Cup Nines and Test squads.

He was one of the inaugural World Cup Nines’ standout performers, heading the tryscoring (7) and pointscoring (52) lists and winning a place in the Team of the Tournament as the Kiwis finished runners-up.

The 23-year-old featured on the wing in New Zealand’s loss to Australia in Wollongong, before scoring the first try and kicking two goals in the series-opening win against Great Britain at Eden Park. He then slotted five goals and a field goal as the Kiwis wrapped up a cleansweep in front of Isaako’s family and friends in Christchurch.

Isaako played only 10 games for the struggling Broncos in a difficult 2020 season that included the loss of his father, Taai, to cancer. He became a first-grade regular again in 2021, scoring six tries and 124 in 18 games at wing and fullback to become just the sixth player to pass the 500-point milestone for the Broncos. The Dolphins announced him as one of their first recruits in December that year.

But with the emergence of Selwyn Cobbo and Tesi Niu, along with Te Maire Martin’s arrival, Isaako found himself on the outer at Red Hill in 2022. He featured at fullback for the resurgent Broncos but was lining up for the Titans just three weeks later. After 11 appearances for his new club, the utility-back found himself in reserve grade for the last two months of the season.

Neither New Zealand nor Samoa selected Isaako for the World Cup at the end of the year.

But the 26-year-old hit the ground running in 2023, typifying the Dolphins expectations-defying efforts so far.

Isaako scored two tries in an 18-point haul in their euphoric Round 1 upset of the heavyweight Sydney Roosters at Suncorp Stadium. He bagged another double at Newcastle a fortnight later and broke his own club record with 20 points from a first-half hat-trick of tries and three goals in the Dolphins’ Round 6 defeat of North Queensland.

Last weekend he crossed for yet another brace in a hard-fought loss to Melbourne, taking his season tally to 10 tries – equal-seventh in the NRL alongside teammate Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow and just one short of his career-best tally.

Meanwhile, has his nose in front of Souths superstar Latrell Mitchell in the compeition’s pointscoring race with 120, slotting 40 goals at 78.43 percent.

Featuring in the NRL finals with the Dolphins will be priority number one for Isaako over the next few months, but another indelible place in the premiership’s record books awaits if he continues on his current trajectory.

Wests Tigers’ Joel Caine currently holds the record for most points in a club’s foundation season, racking up 224 in the joint venture’s maiden 2000 campaign to beat the 159 points scored by Illawarra’s John Dorahy in 1982. Isaako is very much on track to set a new mark.

St George Illawarra wing magician Nathan Blacklock’s 24 tries in 1999 (beating the foundation-season record of 19 set by Auckland Warriors’ Sean Hoppe four years earlier) may be beyond Isaako, but he’s unlikely to be far off that record, too.

Not bad for a junior from Christchurch’s east whose NRL career was seemingly at a crossroads only a few months ago.

(includes Canterbury-born players)

218 – Tonie Carroll (Brisbane – 1996-2009)
214 – Jeremy Smith (Melbourne, St George Illawarra, Cronulla, Newcastle – 2004-16)
209 – David Kidwell (Adelaide, Parramatta, Sydney Roosters, Melbourne, South Sydney – 1997-2009)
198 – Lewis Brown (Warriors, Penrith, Manly – 2009-18)
196 – Bill Noonan (Canterbury, Newtown – 1970-80)
168 – Kodi Nikorima (Brisbane, Warriors, South Sydney, Dolphins – 2015-23)*
150 – Terry Hermansson (South Sydney, Sydney City, Warriors – 1993-2000)
145 – Jason Williams (Western Suburbs, Eastern Suburbs, South Sydney, Canterbury, Penrith – 1987-98)
137 – Eddy Pettybourne (South Sydney, Wests Tigers, Gold Coast – 2007-17)
137 – Quentin Pongia (Canberra, Warriors, Sydney City, St George Illawarra – 1993-2003)
125 – Brent Todd (Canberra, Gold Coast – 1987-93)
114 – Jazz Tevaga (Warriors – 2016-23)
*still active

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