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'I thought I could handle anything': Nicholls finds strength in sharing her pain

Apii Nicholls knew something might've been wrong when her dreams turned to nightmares and took over her reality two years ago.

A quiet achiever on the field who kept out of the limelight and off social media, Nicholls stayed silent for months until after more than a year and a half of struggle, she started to speak up about what she was experiencing.

Nicholls, a police officer in New Zealand for almost six years, is also a mother of two who uses rugby league as an outlet to release any negativity in her life that can sometimes come with her day job.  

The worst of it came when the Raiders fullback was forced to deal with a traumatic experience that saw her unsuccessfully try and save another person’s life.

“You think you’re the strongest person and I thought mentally I could handle anything,” Nicholls tells

“I’ve had to do things like taser people and I don’t like it but if it means you have to protect others then it’s something you can live with, so I had become used to it.

McGregor and Nicholls combine

“But with this particular incident I really became affected mentally and I couldn’t get what happened out of my head.

“I thought I was fine but from the next day I started seeing visuals in my dream of the person involved and I’d go to bed and re-live over and over what I had witnessed.

“I saw the person’s face in my sleep constantly and for the first couple of months I wasn’t sleeping at all. I couldn’t watch a movie with a similar moment in it.

“You don’t really know you need help at the time when there’s a trauma. It was hard and affects people differently.

"It took me over 18 months to come out of that. I’m glad I got help when I did especially now with my son born after, I wanted to get myself right."

Post-traumatic stress disorder affects people all around the world at various stages of their life and Nicholls isn’t afraid to concede it got the better of her before she sought professional advice.

“It never crossed my mind to be a police officer growing up,” Nicholls says.

“A friend of mine thought I’d be a good cop. He was trying to get into policing himself so I applied and got through and kept going until I was sworn in. I love helping people and every day is different."

How footy helped Apii on the beat

Nicholls, who spent two seasons at the Warriors at the beginning of the NRLW, opted not to travel to Australia and continue her career when the COVID-19 pandemic closed borders.

Her employers were supportive of her relocating for the 2020 season but were worried around when she may have been able to return with strict restrictions in place.

It allowed her to have a two-year break and reassess her time in rugby league – a sporting journey that started in Rarotonga in the Cook Islands before she moved to New Zealand.

“Contact sport wasn’t big for women growing up in Rarotonga,” Nicholls said.

“I played netball and had dreams of becoming a Silver Fern. My biggest sports were netball, touch, soccer and volleyball. Only the men were playing rugby at the time.

“But when I moved to New Zealand that’s when I believe they started to implement rugby sevens and put a women’s team together.

“Most of my friends played contact sport so I had no choice but to join them. I was sh****** my pants and got some friends to help me learn how to tackle.

“It’s all adrenaline. You don’t feel it until after a game.”

Nicholls with her two sons Siona and Felix.
Nicholls with her two sons Siona and Felix. ©Supplied

The two-year break for Nicholls, an 11-Test veteran for the Kiwi Ferns, also enabled her to have a second child – son Felix – as the world went into lockdown.

A little sibling for older brother Siona, who Nicholls had when she was a teenager, the pair have been the inspirations behind her return to the NRLW in the last 12 months.

Siona has followed his mum around for more than a decade as she represented her country while Felix travelled to England last year with the NZRL supporting Nicholls and motherhood during the World Cup.

“I wasn’t sure if I was going to come back after having Felix,” Nicholls said.

“I thought that I’d have my family and that was it but I really love playing.

“It helps me, it’s like a release. It helps me mentally and physically come out of any struggles that I go through at work or home.

“Canberra has also shown me a different side to why I love playing. The support from the community is unbelievable.

"To see our sponsors and families with their children at our games makes me proud to be here and proud to be building a future for the little girls in Canberra.

“My older boy loves watching me play and he’s the real reason I’ve come back because he begged me for two years to do it.

“I enjoy seeing him happy. I’m showing him this is a pathway if he wants to take it or he can do whatever he puts his mind to.”

Nicholls is being a mum to Felix in Canberra when she's not on the field.
Nicholls is being a mum to Felix in Canberra when she's not on the field. ©Supplied

For now Siona watches his mum from back home in New Zealand as she plays a big role for the Canberra Raiders in the NRLW this season.

Felix is alongside her in the nation’s capital and has 'Nana', Nicholls' mother, and 27 other Raiders players as his babysitters during the week to give further support.

“Felix’s dad is finding it hard because he has to work in New Zealand but I’m really grateful I have everyone’s support," Nicholls said.

“Initially I wanted to go back to the Titans because I wanted to give back to them after they gave me an opportunity to return to NRLW after having Felix.

“Obviously it did not turn out that way this year but I will forever be thankful for them.

“Borth (Raiders coach Darrin Borthwick) contacted me and I really loved how genuine he was. 

“I didn’t have to ask much, he had it all planned with what he could help my family with and all the things a mother would need. I really appreciate the person he is and how much thought he put into having me in his team."

The Raiders face the Eels on Sunday and are looking to make it four wins from five games to start their NRLW history.

It’s been a remarkable opening month for the Green Machine, who are making a big impression in the nation’s capital with the likes of Nicholls, Zahara Temara and Simaima Taufa, who have plenty of international experience, firing on all cylinders.

“It’s a very supportive and awesome group of girls,” Nicholls said.

“We’ve come together really naturally and are clicking on the field with every game we play.

“I’m glad we had a few good games together but there’s always room for improvement and we'll need to go to another level.

"There’s a lot we want to work on and having talented girls who are always keen to learn, we can only get better. Our start has been really good and we're really driven to do well."


Help is available 24/7 for anyone who has mental health issues by calling Lifeline Australia on 13 11 14.

For further information on the NRL State of Mind program, click here

Acknowledgement of Country

Canberra Raiders respect and honour the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.