No regrets for trendsetter Naiqama
Playing his part in every NRL game this year, Wests Tigers winger Kevin Naiqama has zero regrets for making the move to the joint-ventured club, and inadvertently setting up a trend of players transferring to three clubs in three seasons – a trend which is set to extend into the 2016 season.
When Naiqama signed with the Tigers on October 10 last year, little did the rugby league world know he would become the figurehead for others to do the same – after spending the earlier years of his career at the Knights and last season in Penrith.
Four days after Naiqama signed with the Tigers, five-eighth Blake Austin would leave the club to sign with the Raiders to become the second player looking to reap the benefits from the trend.
Two weeks later props George Rose and Siosaia Vave signed with the Dragons and Sea Eagles respectively. As others between November and January 2015, signed with new clubs like Rooster Lagi Setu, Sharks' Ben Barba, Titan Eddy Pettybourne (his fourth club in four seasons) and Dragon Justin Hunt.
Beyond this year, Panthers' Sea Eagles-bound hooker and Naiqama's Fijian teammate Apisai Koroisau will continue the trend after he won an NRL premiership with the Rabbitohs last year while Feleti Mateo seems destined do the same after being told he was unwanted by Manly beyond their current campaign.
"I never wanted to set a trend – it wasn't my aim," Naiqama laughed to NRL.com.
"If I had it my way I would've wanted to stay at Newcastle but it hasn't worked out that way. I'm just happy to have found a home here at the Tigers which I'm hoping to build upon for the future.
"It was very hard to cement a spot in Newcastle ahead of Origin and Test wingers. It obviously didn't work out at Penrith either, credit to Josh Mansour, Matt Moylan and Dallin [Watene-Zelezniak] they all had real good years in 2014.
"The opportunity to come here to the Tigers was one where I was told I had to work hard for in the off-season. It obviously wasn't given to me. I knuckled down to really make that wing spot mine and it's been real good that it's paid off."
Much the same as the likes of Barba, Koroisau and Rose – Naiqama's second year in the stretch of his three different clubs was found to be very difficult, especially in the 25-year-old's case where he was given the confidence of former Knights coach Wayne Bennett to succeed elsewhere.
"It was really hard. I obviously thought I was coming to Penrith to be playing first grade on a weekly basis," Naiqama said.
"But that wasn't the case. There were no hard feelings there though. I was pretty close with all the boys and I'm still friends with them now so it's worked out for the better now."
Knowing full well Nathan Milone, Delouise Hoeter and David Nofoaluma have been in and out of first grade this year; Naiqama has zero plans of feeling satisfied in the NRL despite almost doubling his career games this season alone.
"That's the one thing – you can never get too comfortable. There's always a young boy there waiting in the wings ready to get his crack so I have to do everything possible to remain in the team so I'm always keen to learn and improve," Naiqama said.
"For my own personal goals, it's been real good. I've ticked the boxes I wanted to and achieved what I wanted to. It's been good there has been a lot of hard work gone into it.
"It's good to have played every game this season, and I've been happy with my form and I can only build on it from here."