Kevin Naiqama higher priority for Knights

THE Knights are likely to fast-track negotiations with Fijian flyer Kevin Naiqama after his eye-catching performance against the Eels at Parramatta Stadium last Saturday night.

Filling in at fullback for Queenslander Darius Boyd, the 23-year-old utility back ran 16 times for 247metres, which included a spectacular 95-metre try that extended Newcastle’s lead to 16-6 in the 51st minute of their 20-12 win

Off contract at the end of the season, Naiqama is in his fifth year at the Knights after arriving with older brother Wes from the Dragons in 2008. After playing for Newcastle’s National Youth Cup side in 2008 and 2009, he has spent much of the past three seasons playing NSW Cup.

He represented NSW Residents in 2010, made his NRL debut in the last round that year, and the game against the Eels was his third NRL appearance this season.

‘‘I’m in negotiations at the moment so everything’s up in the air,’’ Naiqama told the Newcastle Herald after the game on Saturday.

‘‘I’m leaving it all up to my manager and letting him take care of that stuff.’’

His manager, Darryl Mather, was reluctant to comment when contacted by the Herald yesterday, but was confident Naiqama could establish himself in the NRL.

‘‘Kevin’s a fabulous boy, and a fabulous young player, and I think he’s got a bright future if given the opportunities to develop. Whether that’s at the Knights or somewhere else, I don’t want to speculate at this juncture,’’ Mather said.

The Knights’ policy is to not comment on player recruitment or retention.

But the Herald has been told the Knights anticipate interest from other clubs after Naiqama’s highlight-reel try and overall game against the Eels, and his status will be a high-priority topic when football staff meet this week to discuss the list of off-contract players.

In recent years, the Knights have waited until the latter stages each season to sign Naiqama to a second-tier contract, usually for one year at a time. But they are preparing for other clubs to offer him a minimum two-year deal and a position in their top 25.

Having played on the wing in his first three NRL games, Naiqama said he preferred to play fullback, and enjoyed the extra time in possession against Parramatta.

Naiqama knows he is not about to oust Boyd, due back against Souths at ANZ Stadium next Sunday after the Origin decider tomorrow night, on a permanent basis, but he hopes he is the first player Bennett calls on the next time Boyd is unavailable for any reason.

‘‘I like to get my hands on the ball more and challenge the big forwards when they get tired. That’s when I want to inject myself in the game,’’ Naiqama said.

‘‘It’s something the coaches have worked on with me during the year, and I’ve played mostly fullback in the NSW Cup, and I’m definitely enjoying the challenge.’’

Meanwhile, prop Kade Snowden’s knee injury is more serious than first expected and he could be sidelined for six to eight weeks. Snowden tore the medial ligament in his left knee in the 55th minute of the victory over the Eels.

The initial diagnosis was a grade-two tear, and three to four weeks out, but it is understood the damage has been diagnosed as grade-three.

Jarrod Mullen has a sprained left thumb but is confident of playing against Souths.

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