After 29 Tests in the black jersey Shaun Johnson knows a future Kiwi when he sees one, and it took just a couple of pre-season sessions alongside Briton Nikora to convince him that the rookie Shark was destined for the international stage.

Upon arriving at Cronulla following last year's Kiwi tour, Johnson was immediately impressed by Nikora's performances and enquired about his heritage, before taking his thoughts straight to New Zealand coach Michael Maguire.

Fast forward a few months and Johnson and Nikora are now set to line up together for the Kiwis against Mate Ma'a Tonga at Mount Smart Stadium on Saturday.

"I remember he stood out to me straight away," Johnson said of Nikora.

"I trained a couple of sessions with him and was asking about him straight away, I asked him are you a Kiwi? He said 'yeah bo', and I just said 'oh, here we go'.

"I just knew he was going to be a good player.

"Funnily enough I had a meeting with 'Madge' [Maguire] that week. Briton hadn't even played first grade yet, but I said to Madge that we have got a young boy down in Cronulla who is going to be something special.

"In no way did I think he would be playing this game, but I said we need to get him in the environment just so he knows that is where he belongs.

"The thing I love about him most is he just punches such a good line, he just runs such a genuine back-rower's line, and as a half that's all you ask for."

While Johnson's words were no doubt of assistance, Nikora has well and truly earned his spot in the squad for the opening game of the Oceania Cup following a brilliant opening three months for Cronulla.

In the first 12 Telstra Premiership matches of his career Nikora has averaged more than 100 running metres a game and has made seven line breaks to go with three tries.

The 21-year-old told NRL.com that having the support of Johnson had given him a huge confidence boost.

"He believes in me, and I am grateful to have someone like him at the Cronulla Sharks to learn off," Nikora said.  

"When he came to Cronulla I was over the moon just to train with him, let alone play alongside him, and now I get the opportunity to play Kiwis with him."

Born and raised about an hour's drive from Benji Marshall's hometown of Whakatane in New Zealand's Bay of Plenty region, Nikora shrugged off Marshall's suggestions that he had now assumed the mantle as the area's king of rugby league.

"I grew up watching Benji and I am still buzzing out being in the presence of Benji and all of those types of players," Nikora told NRL.com.

"It's unreal, especially when I find myself just sitting there talking to Benji.

"He's just a normal Maori guy, you don't know what those players are going to be like when you first talk to them, but it's just like you are talking to your cousin."