Super League Grand Final: Kevin Naiqama is St Helens' history boy
Watch the Super League Grand Final live on Sky Sports Arena from 5pm on Saturday (kick-off 6pm)
By Marc Bazeley
Last Updated: 09/10/19 12:04pm
As Kevin Naiqama stands at a table giving interviews in Old Trafford’s Evolution Suite at the media day for this Saturday’s Grand Final, on the wall behind him is a large picture showing how the ground has changed from its early years to the present day.
Whether by accident or design, the place the St Helens centre has chosen to position himself in is quite appropriate as he has been trying to soak up both the sporting and cultural history of the UK since arriving on these shores late last year.
The fact his first season with Saints has seen him grace some of England's most iconic and historic sporting venues - Anfield for Magic Weekend, Wembley for the Challenge Cup final - is something which makes Naiqama's eyes light up and adds to his experiences so far.
"Me and my wife are trying to get around to a few museums because one thing England holds is a lot of history," Naiqama told Sky Sports. "We've been trying to get to know England a lot better like that.
"But if you talk about history, Old Trafford is one place rich in a lot of history. We've got to play at Wembley, Anfield and now Old Trafford in the space of 10 months.
"It's been an incredible experience for me and I've definitely enjoyed it."
"We've got to play at Wembley, Anfield and now Old Trafford in the space 10 months. It's been an incredible experience for me and I've definitely enjoyed it."
Having spent his entire professional career in Australia prior to this season - playing for Newcastle Knights, Penrith Panthers and Wests Tigers - the Fiji international jumped at the opportunity to test himself in Super League when approached by St Helens.
He was joined by good friend Joseph Paulo, marking the first time the two have played for the same club after years of constantly being up against each other in the NRL, along with helping the process of settling into a new life thousands of miles from home.
"We were friends back in Australia, but we've always played against each other," Naiqama said. "To finally be signing for a team where we're playing on the same side helps, and our wives knew each other as well.
"It's good they had a mutual friend moving over here, but the whole community have been outstanding and made it a lot easier settling in.
"It took a while to settle in because of how different it is culturally, but more so moving away from your family and friends - I think that was the hardest bit.
"But the whole team and the community of St Helens have been so welcoming, it's definitely made it a lot easier for me and my wife to settle in on this side of the world."
Naiqama has quickly shown why Saints head coach Justin Holbrook brought him in, earning one of the centre berths in Super League's Dream Team for 2019 - although the man himself insists the credit for the outstanding debut season he has enjoyed should go to his team-mates.
In coming to this country, the 30-year-old followed in the footsteps of his brother, Wes, who enjoyed two seasons with London Broncos before retiring due to a knee injury.
The elder of the Naiqama siblings was able to offer advice from his time living and playing in England, along with someone to share the ups and downs of being a professional athlete with, and he will be at Old Trafford to watch as St Helens take on Salford Red Devils in the Grand Final.
"He's been through the same process, the journey, the preparation and [how to] mentally prepare yourself," Naiqama said. "It helps a lot when you can lean on someone like that, especially when it's your older brother.
"He loved his time over here, living in London for four years and would have stayed a bit longer if he could.
"He's flown over here for this game to come and watch, and it's so good to have him over here and share this experience with him."
St Helens go into this year's Grand Final as favourites, having claimed the League Leaders' Shield by a record margin of 16 points and vanquished defending champions Wigan Warriors 40-10 in the play-offs to reach Old Trafford.
The Challenge Cup final defeat to Warrington Wolves in August serves as a timely reminder nothing can be taken for granted, though, something Naiqama is acutely aware of.
"What it came down to was who the better team was on the day," Naiqama said. "We've been the most consistent side all year, but when it comes into these big games you can't take that into it.
"It's 80 minutes which decides who will be champion, not the months leading up to it, and it's no different this time around.
"It's great that we created history in finishing 16 points top of the league, but these 80 minutes will decide who is the real champion for this year."