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Naiqama: Nines is my shot

Panthers new recruit Kevin Naiqama has played just 15 NRL games but is hoping to nail a first grade spot in 2014. Credit: NRL Photos Copyright: NRL Photos

Matt Moylan might be Penrith's incumbent boy wonder, but new recruit Kevin Naiqama is determined to knock his new team-mate down a peg or two. 

And a weekend in Auckland might be the perfect occasion to do it. 

With the pre-season circus focused on high-profile signings Jamie Soward and Jamal Idris, the Panthers flyer has found himself needing to remind coach Ivan Cleary that he, too, could make a significant impact on the team. 

"I've only got three games, that's all I've got to prove to Ivan if I want the spot. That's my only option. I need to show him that I'm ready to do it," Naiqama told NRL.com. 

Jumping out from behind the shadows of representative trio Darius Boyd, Akuila Uate and James McManus was an easy decision for the former Knight to make.  

"Kevin's a bit of a victim of circumstance here..." Newcastle coach Wayne Bennett said last year. "Kevin needs to play in the NRL and I've told him that and I want him to be successful."

So he signed a two-year deal with a team in dire need of an attacking freak, a player whose natural talent needed to be set free before it exploded in another code. 

Since then, the 24-year-old produced a handy two-game cameo in Newcastle's fairytale run to last year's preliminary final, and was a standout for Fiji during their World Cup campaign. 

"It was awesome, something I'll never forget," Naiqama said. "I'll cherish it for the rest of my life. I learnt so much on that tour, with so many different players and just playing against high quality teams like England and Australia.

"I've definitely come back a different player from that."

Problem is, he also came back lost in a crowd of burgeoning fullbacks and wingers his new club had stocked itself up with. 

Not only will Naiqama have to contend with the opportunistic Moylan, but rising young fullbacks Dallin Watene Zelezniak and Kieran Moss have been training with the first grade squad, while David Simmons, Josh Mansour, James Roberts and untried prospects Eto Nabuli and George Jennings (brother of Michael) will vie for spots on the wing. 

All of a sudden it's a talented and deep back three that not only makes picking a Panther in your Holden NRL Fantasy team a nightmare, but it also makes Newcastle's depth chart look relatively small by comparison. 

"Yeah, that's true. There's heaps of talent here in the backs, some boys that have already played first grade and even some young boys coming up from the -20s," Naiqama said. 

"[I've] definitely got a lot of hard work in front of me but I'm looking forward to the challenge. In Newcastle, I had an Australian fullback, Australian winger and Origin winger in front of me. It's a different task here, but definitely looking forward to the challenge but I'm taking it and see how it goes."

If he gets a starting spot, an urgent push in New Zealand next month might have done the trick. He mightn't turn out to be everyone's boy wonder, but as Phil Gould's right-hand man Phil Moss said at the time of their prized signing: "He will no doubt become a crowd pleaser."

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