Naiqama, McIlwrick hoping to stay on the bus
With Wests Tigers' highly-publicised player contract wranglings now settling down, off-contract pair Kev Naiqama and Matt McIlwrick are hoping they can tie their future's down at Concord.
Naiqama is enjoying a shift back to his preferred wing position – which he says is his best spot – while McIlwrick is enjoying his longest-ever run of consistent NRL starts after floating in and out of first grade at previous clubs Canberra and the Roosters.
"Hopefully if the opportunity arises to stay at the club, that would be great but I haven't given it too much thought," Naiqama told NRL.com.
"I'm just focusing on doing my best job while I'm here at the Tigers and that starts this week [against the Roosters]. That's all my thought process has been to be honest, just preparing the best I can for the team and doing my best while I'm here."
Naiqama said he was enjoying his footy more since reverting to the wing in Round 9 because it allowed him to get more involved, and the numbers bear that out. He averaged 94 metres per game in eight starts at centre and has averaged a whopping 149 metres in four games since switching to wing.
His tackle busts have also jumped from around one per game to three per game and he has two tries in four starts at wing after just three in eight at centre.
"I think I get more involved being on the wing in regards to getting my hands on the ball and just helping the boys out in yardage," he added.
Naiqama admitted all the off-field distractions may have crept into the two previous performances and hoped an improved effort last Saturday against the Dragons was a turning point.
"It sort of crept in against Souths and Brisbane and sort of took its toll with the media and all the attention on us but now that's all settled hopefully we can just focus on football," he said.
"This weekend is a big game, it's been a while since we got a win and we'll be doing everything we can to get the two points. It should be a good afternoon, they're a benchmark side the Roosters."
Naiqama and McIlwrick both felt the team should have made more of its chances against the Dragons in a tight 16-12 loss and regarded it as one that got away but hoped it pointed to brighter things ahead.
"We came up against a quality side on the weekend and probably feel like it's an opportunity lost," McIlwrick said.
"Obviously you're never happy with a loss but I think we've come on in leaps and bounds, especially bouncing back from that Broncos game a couple of weeks ago but we've obviously still got plenty to work on and still missing a couple of troops."
McIlwrick said he was loving chance to start consistently in first grade as he looks to extend his stay at Concord. The 26-year-old Kiwi has played first grade in each of the past five seasons but never more than eight games in one year. This year he is about to start his 13th straight.
"I came to the Tigers for an opportunity and I was lucky enough [to get one]," he said.
"Unfortunately Matty [Ballin] had some injuries there but it gave me an opportunity to start every game this year so far.
"I'm pretty determined to hold that spot and see what I can do with it. I'm enjoying learning each week and trying to improve my game. [Jacob] Liddle is there as well and he's been playing pretty well lately. I'm enjoying building a combination with him also.
"Playing 12 straight games, it's the most games I've played in a season so I've found it's very good for your game because you're not in and out of reserve grade and every time you come back into first grade you've got to start again so it's been great in that aspect.
"Now I feel a lot more comfortable I can work on those smaller things in my game and hopefully improve which is better for the team.
"Hopefully I can stay here, we've had a big few months of contract talks [at the Tigers]. Once that's out of the way hopefully we can come to terms with something but I'm loving the club and they've been good to me so hopefully I can stick around for a bit longer."