An underrated contributor in Brisbane Broncos’ watershed drive to the NRL grand final, Hornby Panthers product Jordan Riki is set to join a select group when he runs out onto Accor Stadium on Sunday night to face Penrith Panthers.

The strapping 23-year-old second-rower will become just the 11th Canterbury junior, Canterbury senior rep or Christchurch-born player to turn out in an Australian premiership decider – and he shapes as a key performer after starring in the Broncos’ sizzling finals campaign to date.

On top of his customary hardworking and dynamic contributions in defence and as an edge ball-runner, Riki scored vital second-half tries that helped propel the Broncos to emphatic playoffs wins over Melbourne (26-0) and the Warriors (42-12).

Riki is the first player from Canterbury’s junior ranks to line up in an NRL grand final since Palmerston North-born Kodi Nikorima, who began his rugby league journey as a youngster at Burnham Chevaliers, played in the Broncos’ golden point defeat to North Queensland Cowboys in 2015.

Meanwhile, the last long-term Canterbury junior to feature in an NRL decider was Marist-Western Suburbs and Riccarton Knights product Lewis Brown, a centre in the Warriors’ 2011 grand final loss at the hands of Manly.

Born in Raglan, Riki came through the Panthers’ ranks and St Thomas of Canterbury College’s burgeoning rugby league program, representing New Zealand 16s in 2015 and captaining NZ Māori 17s in 2017, before venturing to Brisbane and impressing in the Hastings Deering Colts under-20s and Queensland Cup competitions for Norths Devils. The dedicated tyro also skippered Junior Kiwis against Australian Schoolboys in 2019.

Riki’s potential was recognised when he was chosen for Māori All Stars in early-2020 before he had made his NRL debut, which eventually came midway through the season for the 20-year-old. He played five games for the wooden-spoon-collecting Broncos in 2020 and established a regular second-row berth the following season.

The 190cm, 105kg powerhouse continued to progress in 2022, scoring four tries in 22 games for an improving Brisbane side and earning a spot in New Zealand’s wider squad for the midyear Test against Tonga. He missed a place in the match-day 17 and the Kiwis’ World Cup squad in the face of fierce competition.

Following a third appearance for Māori All Stars, Riki – who also boasts Indigenous Australian heritage – has been a permanent fixture in the second-placed Broncos’ stellar campaign, averaging 80 metres and 31 tackles per game, and needing just 13 rounds to set a new season career-high mark of five tries.

A toe injury sidelined him for six games during the latter part of the regular season but he returned for the last three rounds and has taken little time to regain top form.

Combining with Reece Walsh to score a try against the Storm in the qualifying final, Riki put a nail in the preliminary final coffin of the team he idolised as a kid – finishing off a long-range movement (albeit a wildly controversial one following an uncalled forward pass by Walsh) to break the Warriors’ resolve last Saturday.

Riki’s place in this weekend’s blockbuster grand final against the threepeat-chasing Panthers is just reward for the dedication and sacrifices he has made to pursue his rugby league dream over the past decade.

Win or lose, a New Zealand Test debut looms during the Kiwis’ Pacific Championships campaign in October.

But thoughts of representative call-ups will be put on the backburner this week for Riki as he strives to join Brent Todd, Quentin Pongia, Jason Williams, Tonie Carroll and Jeremy Smith as the only players from our region to celebrate in a premiership triumph.

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