20-year Memories: Tawera Nikau
Tawera Nikau arrived in Melbourne in 1998, adding another chapter to an already well-travelled career up until that time.
Nikau had spent six years in English Super League with Castleford before playing 61 games with the Cronulla Sharks, including the 1997 Super League grand final.
It was in that following off-season when the Kiwi international was approached by newly appointed Storm coach Chris Anderson and CEO John Ribot about the prospect of joining the competition’s newest club.
“I came with an open mind, Chris and John sold a good story to me about Melbourne Storm and the vision and dream they had for a team in Melbourne, I definitely wanted to be a part of that,” Nikau said.
“It was a new beginning I suppose, I’d travelled and played over in the UK and now I could build a team and legacy in Melbourne.”
Another draw card about moving to Victoria was the opportunity to escape the NRL melting pot north of the border.
“Living in Sydney, playing for the Sharks, it was full on. They had just been through the Super League war and it was a pretty hostile environment,” Nikau said.
“It was really good to walk down the street and for people not to know who you were.”
The bright lights of Melbourne were a far cry from the small coal-mining town of Huntly, New Zealand where Nikau grew up.
As one of seven boys, life was naturally one, big competitive game. While the majourity of young Kiwis dream of pulling on an All Blacks jersey, the Huntly community leaned more towards rugby league as their chosen sport.
His talents as a junior attracted interest from the UK and then the Shire before his career would take an unexpected path towards foreign NRL country.
Nikau arrived in Melbourne as just one of two internationals signed by the Club, the other being captain and four-time premiership winner Glenn Lazarus.
Storm may have had no history, no wins and no trophy cabinet at the time however the prized Kiwi recruit could already see something special building in the southern state.
“You look at our team, a lot of young guys came for the opportunity to prove themselves,” Nikau said.
“Chris Anderson created a culture where the guys really put in which built a solid foundation for the Club.
“It didn’t matter who you were or where you came from, you worked really hard. I think that is something that still rings true with Storm today, there is a very strong work ethic.
“We really created a strong foundation and I am very proud to say that I was a part of that inaugural Storm team, it is probably one of the highlights of my career.”
Nikau may have spent only two seasons in Melbourne but his 53 games made for several lasting moments.
He helped the Club reach the finals in its inaugural year in 1998 and 12 months later tasted ultimate success in a dramatic 20-18 Grand Final win over the Dragons.
Nikau’s time in purple may have been short lived but his passion for the Club remains.
“Even to this day I still speak so highly of Storm, I still go back to the player reunion days whenever I can. The number one team I support is Storm and then the Warriors,” Nikau said.
“I’m very proud, very privileged to play for Storm. I think that is something that is held very closely by a lot of the players that have played, they understand what the culture is and what it means to be a Storm player.”
Melbourne Storm’s connection with New Zealand began with Nikau and continues to be seen today every time the team steps onto the field.
New Zealand internationals such as Jesse and Kenny Bromwich and Nelson Asofa-Solomona proudly carry on Nikau's legacy.
It is an established relationship between a Club and country that will continue to grow into the future.
“Even in those early years we had a really good New Zealand supporter base and still to this day there is a huge amount of expat Kiwis that support them,” Nikau said.
“I am immensely proud of the Club’s association with New Zealand.
“There are some outstanding players that have come through and I can guarantee there will be more outstanding young Kiwis of the future that will play for Melbourne Storm.”