After not even laying eyes on a rugby league ball for the first nine years of his life, John Nicodemus is now a capped Philippines international with two years of Auckland first division footy under his belt.
Kiwileaguecentral.com caught up with the Glenora Bears utility to discuss his journey to date, and how he holds his own on a footy field, despite tipping the scales at just 85kgs. (Photo: Shelly Kingi)
Thanks for joining us John. Let’s start with a bit about your heritage and where you come from…
We moved to New Zealand from the Philippines in 2000 when I was nine years old. My parents had moved over the year before and set up a business and then shifted us over. We lived in Te Atatu and I started playing footy soon after I got here. I had no idea what it was, but I fell in love with it, and I have played ever since.
What was your first introduction to the game?
Man, it wasn’t a natural transition. We usually play basketball or something like that in the Philippines. But I was in primary school and I saw some kids throwing the ball around. It looked really fun to me, so I hung around in the background and then I was introduced to the game.
Later I joined the U45kg league team at the Te Atatu Roosters. I didn’t really know what I was doing, but I got coached through and I kept going.
Did you know anything about the game before you touched down in New Zealand?
Nothing at all. In the Philippines it’s basketball, boxing anything American-influenced. I’d never see a rugby or league ball in my life.
What was it like then, when many years later, you got the call to say you had been selected to represent your country?
It was awesome. All that time I was playing league it never came into my mind that I could play for my country, I never thought about it until I got that call. The next minute I am sitting in the changing room about to play for the national side in my first ever international against Malta.
I was buzzing out, I didn’t even know what to think. But it was an awesome feeling putting on that jersey.
Do the rest of your family play too?
My two younger brothers have played reserves for the Philippines. Maybe one day we will be able to play all together for the top side. For sure that would be the dream. To be on the field with them would be an awesome experience.
What do your family – particularly those back in the Philippines – think of you playing footy when they see photos of some of the massive human beings you play against?
They freak out man. They are like ‘what the hell, these guys are massive’ they can’t believe I am around that. We are not big people, so being around those people playing at intensity is a big thing for a guy that weighs 85kgs.
Even my mum and dad get worried about me. But they enjoy it too.
Ethnic league is growing in Auckland right. What do you make of the efforts being made in that area?
I love seeing it and I love being part of it too. At trainings, most of the boys have never touched a rugby league ball before. So teaching them the basics, seeing their interest, it’s cool. You’d never think many of those boys would play rugby league, it’s just not their thing.
Finally, you spent the year with Glenora in the Auckland competition, winning the Fox Memorial reserve grade and playing some top-flight footy. How was that?
It’s been awesome. A big learning curve for me with it being my first year at Glenora. So I’ve been challenging myself and trying to up-skill myself in footy.
Being in the top side with those boys, they are on another level. Having coach Bernie [Perenara] and all those boys there, it was a different experience, but awesome.