Smashing roadblocks Naiqama's Tigers priority
For the past six years, wingers James McManus, David Simmons, Dallin Watene-Zelezniak, Akuila Uate and David Simmons have all proven to be roadblocks in Kevin Naiqama's quest to play consistent NRL football.
With a combined nine Tests, eight Origins and 524 NRL games between Naiqama's former teammates at Newcastle and Penrith, the 25-year-old Wests Tigers recruit – as former Knights mentor Wayne Bennett happily pointed out two seasons ago – has been a victim of circumstance for much of his rugby league career.
An eight-time Fijian Test player in his own right, Naiqama is now looking to carve himself a spot in the Tigers backline.
With Wests winger David Nofoaluma still on the sidelines after suffering an ACL injury late last season, Naiqama has the perfect opportunity to begin a season in the NRL for the first time ever. It's now just a matter of performing in the trials and at the Auckland Nines.
"The only reason I signed with the Penrith is because I thought I'd be able to push for a first-grade spot and playing in the NRL week-in, week-out, but it just wasn't the case," Naiqama told NRL.com.
"There are similar circumstances here at the Tigers with Pat Richards and David Nofoaluma so now it's just on me to push my claims for a spot at the Nines and the trials.
"I've been lingering between first grade and NSW Cup for the past four or five years so I'm definitely looking to have a real big crack at it this year. It all comes down to my hard work and dedication to the sport and then I guess I'll reap the rewards.
"Hopefully Nofs will be back playing soon but if I'm given the opportunity [to begin the year in the NRL] I'm going to grab it with both hands and not look back."
With the Tigers becoming Naiqama's third club in three seasons, the Arncliffe Scots junior said he was now ready for a regular stint in first grade – having only appeared in the NRL 23 times so far in his career.
"I'm getting sick of moving. When I was in Newcastle I really thought I was at home there but I was limited in the opportunities there, and I went to Penrith for a better shot at NRL football," Naiqama said.
"But credit to Mansour, Dallin [Watene-Zelezniak] and Matt Moylan – they all had breakout years – so I'm hoping to make a home here at the Tigers. The boys have been real welcoming and it's been easy to fit in so hopefully this will be my last move.
"The change of clubs has been really good. Pre-season has been pretty tough but I like what they have set up for us in terms of strength and conditioning and speed. I really feel that I have become fitter, faster and stronger."