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Young gun Nikorima opens up on hitting rock bottom

Former Broncos and Roosters young gun Jayden Nikorima thought he had it all - and then he wanted to end it all.

Four years ago, Nikorima was one of the hottest properties in rugby league, a Broncos whiz-kid so talented he was poached by NRL glamour club the Sydney Roosters on a three-year, $750,000 deal.

Then came one of the most dramatic career crashes in the sport's history: two doping offences, drug and alcohol abuse and a near jail term after Nikorima was charged with bribing a teammate to sign a statutory declaration.

At his lowest ebb in 2018, Nikorima says he cried himself to sleep. In his head, he thought of ways to bring a final, tragic end to all the pain and misery he had inflicted on rugby league, himself, his mates and his family.

For the past two years, Nikorima, still only 23, has kept under the radar, preferring to begin his reformation by playing for the Redcliffe Dolphins in Queensland's Intrust Super Cup.

Then came a Sliding Doors moment. Redcliffe invited a mindset and performance coach, ex-soldier Glenn Azar, to address the Dolphins players at training.

Still lost and searching for purpose, Nikorima bonded with Azar. Their partnership has helped Nikorima face his demons and wipe the slate clean.

It is fitting that as Nikorima opens up about his darkest days and the fight to save his life, he wears a shirt that says #notdeadyet.

"I have been at rock bottom, I have lost it all," Nikorima told Azar's Building Better Humans podcast, to be released today.

"As a kid, you hear stories of NRL players getting in trouble and I thought I would never do that.

"Then you come in to the NRL and get surrounded by fame, money, girls and you fall in the trap ... I fell head first into the trap."

Jayden Nikorima was sacked by the Roosters after breaching a drugs breach. Picture: Getty Images.
Jayden Nikorima was sacked by the Roosters after breaching a drugs breach. Picture: Getty Images.

The younger brother of Warriors playmaker and former Broncos utility Kodi Nikorima, Jayden was tipped for stardom at Red Hill. He and Kodi were the star weapons in the Broncos' march to the under-20s grand final in 2014, but Jayden couldn't resist a massive offer from the Roosters the following year.

Arriving at Bondi for the 2016 season, Nikorima's career sensationally took off. Mitchell Pearce was stood down for an off-field incident and Nikorima was handed his NRL debut, playing the first seven games of the season.

Nikorima, Latrell Mitchell and Jackson Hastings were tipped to create a Roosters dynasty.

"When they started saying that, you get a big head from that," he admits.

The trio are no longer at the club.

Within 12 months of his Roosters debut, Nikorima went off the rails. A succession of hamstring injuries cruelled his NRL career.

In the space of four months in 2017, Nikorima recorded two strikes for cocaine use following in-house club testing.

After the second strike, which triggered a mandatory 12-match NRL ban, Nikorima panicked.

Jayden Nikorima with former teammate Jackson Hastings. Picture: Gregg Porteous.
Jayden Nikorima with former teammate Jackson Hastings. Picture: Gregg Porteous.

He offered $7000 to Brad Keighran, a teammate at Roosters feeder-club Wyong Roos to falsify a statutory declaration claiming he had spiked Nikorima's drink.

When the truth emerged, police charged Nikorima. He entered a guilty plea, serving a 12-month community corrections order.

"I knew Roosters would tear my contract up," he said. "When I told my mum (about his drug use), she just burst into tears.

"I feared my dad would give me a hiding. I had so many emotions. It was all over the news. I felt I was tarnishing my family's name and Kodi's name in the NRL."

His mum Debbie begged Nikorima to come back to Brisbane, saying: "If we don't get him back home, he will be in a box."

Nikorima, having just turned 21, admits he couldn't see light at the end of the tunnel.

"I had a chat with my younger brother Harlem and he said have you ever thought about doing bad things. I said, 'yeah I've thought about killing myself'," he says.

Nikorima has turned his life around after meeting Glenn Azar at the Redcliffe Dolphins.
Nikorima has turned his life around after meeting Glenn Azar at the Redcliffe Dolphins.

"I said, 'bro, I cry myself to sleep at night. I think about driving a car off a bridge or driving into a pole. I could just have an overdose and die'.

"He went purple and said, 'I can't lose you, bro'.

"For me, I would rather be dead than go to jail. I was taking drugs and alcohol. I thought if I'm going to jail for this, I may as well have my fun now.

"Nothing clicked for me until the camp we had with Redcliffe (where Nikorima met Azar)."

Nikorima hasn't given up resurrecting his NRL career. He is young enough to fight back. He often visualises himself running onto Suncorp Stadium in Broncos colours and giving his mum a kiss in the tunnel.

"I want to show young kids it's never too late," he says.

"I would love to go to schools and tell my story and say take ownership of your actions. I didn't do that for a good three to five years and it tarnished me.

"NRL would be a bonus, although I'm not where I want to be yet. I just want to be a better human."

 

LISTEN TO THE FULL JAYDEN NIKORIMA INTERVIEW

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Originally published as Young gun Nikorima opens up on hitting rock bottom