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Shaun Johnson talks up Briton Nikora, set to make Kiwis debut against Tonga

The Kiwis reckon their trump card in the looming torrid forward battle with Tonga is a debut player with just 12 NRL games to his name.

Rookie Cronulla second-rower Briton Nikora has been hailed for his game-breaking qualities and the point of difference he can provide in Saturday's Test at Mt Smart Stadium.

Michael Maguire's starting pack is built around five form players from NRL powerhouses Melbourne and the Sydney Roosters, all carrying the expectation to stand up to the muscle of their Pacific rivals.

Nikora isn't cut from the same cloth.

The relatively slim 21-year-old has made a name for himself with his agility and astute edge running lines.

He struck up an immediate rapport with Sharks and Kiwis playmaker Shaun Johnson, who noticed Nikora's talent soon after arriving in Cronulla over the off-season and immediately enquired about his heritage.

The Tauranga-born forward played even better than Johnson had imagined and Kiwis coach Maguire was convinced enough to start him on Test debut.

Assistant coach Nathan Cayless said the early signs are that Johnson and Nikora pack a combined threat that should worry the Tongans.

"He's obviously got a really good combination with Shaun and that's something that's a really big plus for us," Cayless said.

"The combination they're showing at training is very exciting.

"He's a very smart footballer, Briton. Very good on his feet, very good ball skills. He adds something different to our side."

The absence of another Sharks forward, veteran Tongan prop Andrew Fifita, was also playing on Cayless's mind.

Fifita was banned for three matches by the NRL judiciary on Tuesday night after failing to have a dangerous contact charge downgraded following his "crusher tackle" against Canberra.

"He's obviously a big part of their attack and how he drives the players and drives the team," Cayless said.

"I think Andrew will still have a bit of an influence on their camp ... and they've still got some firepower so there's going to be plenty of work for our middle boys."

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The Sharks star said he had mentioned Nikora’s name to Kiwis coach Michael Maguire during pre-season. Source: 1 NEWS


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