'T' aiming for the top

Tawera Nikau is convinced he can still be the Kiwis' league coach and sees "options on the horizon" in Australia as his fast-track to the position.

Initially surpassed by Brian McClennan for the Kiwis' coaching role in May, Nikau, 38, has since been in an assistant role with the Wai-Coa-Bay Bartercard Cup side and will coach New Zealand Maori in a three-test series against the Cook Islands, starting in Tokoroa on Saturday.

He confirmed yesterday all these stepping stones were directed down one path and his connections with his former Australian clubs would be where he would gain higher level coaching experience.

"The Kiwi job is on my priority list," he said.

"I understand they (New Zealand Rugby League) would want me to have more experience and I'm putting my feelers out there.

"I still have strong ties with Melbourne and Cronulla and I am furthering those.

"I guess something will happen and it will be a case of being in the right place at the right time.

"McClennan has the job for a few years at least so I will be happy to wait."

Although Nikau said he was in talks with Melbourne and Cronulla, he declined to offer any further information.

However, Melbourne could be the more likely of the two to accommodate his desire to coach.

After 53 appearances for the Storm, culminating in winning the 1999 premiership, the eastern stand at Olympic Park was named in his honour.

He holds real legend status in Melbourne after raising the profile of the club when it first appeared in the National Rugby League competition in 1998.

Yet Cronulla was Nikau's first NRL club and he has unfinished business there.

His last game with the Sharks was a 26-8 loss to Brisbane in the 1997 grand final.

No comment could be gained yesterday from the coaching staff of either franchise as it was a public holiday in Australia.

No matter where he goes, Nikau is regarded as something of a "god" in league circles.

As a player, he was mercurial at times.

Since his well publicised leg amputation and his wife's death, his ability to bounce back unrelentingly shows any club in any sport would benefit from having him as a mentor.