IN his wildest dreams, Kevin Naiqama had never envisaged his first NRL try would be so spectacular – or so significant.
Teammate Jarrod Mullen described it as a ‘‘game-breaker’’.
The 23-year-old Fijian international raced 95 metres, stepping around veteran fullback Luke Burt mid-journey, to score 11 minutes into the second half of Newcastle’s 20-12 victory over the Eels at Parramatta Stadium on Saturday night.
Better known as Wes Naiqama’s little brother, his length-of-the-field scoring run was his first from four NRL games and extended Newcastle’s lead to 16-6. His previous three appearances – two this year and one in 2010 – were all on the wing, but he played fullback against the Eels.
Though he named Peter Mata’utia to replace Queenslander Darius Boyd at the back, coach Wayne Bennett said he decided a week ago to play Naiqama there instead.
Including his try, Naiqama ran for 247 metres, equalling Jarryd Hayne for the fifth most by any player this season behind Josh Dugan (257) and Paul Gallen’s hauls of 254, 249 and 248.
‘‘He was really good. I was really pleased with him,’’ Bennett said.
‘‘He can do that. He’s got wonderful speed; great footwork. His issue tonight was whether he could maintain the speed of the game, playing fullback, because they do more running than probably every other player in the team except the hookers.
‘‘He hasn’t had a lot of NRL experience there, and he did get tired at the end and finished up on the wing there for a little while, but we got him through.’’
Making a routine hit-up off his own line, Naiqama stepped inside Ben Smith and away from Ken Sio, burst into the clear, then beat Burt with footwork near the halfway line and had too much pace for a chasing Nathan Hindmarsh.
‘‘I was looking for support, but the closest person I could see was Eddie [Joel Edwards], and he was about 15 or 20 metres behind, so I just tried to square him [Burt] up and beat him on the inside and hope for the best, and my legs got me there in the end,’’ Naiqama said.