KNIGHTS speedster Kevin Naiqama wants to sign a new contract as soon as possible despite his disappointment that older brother Wes will leave the club to join Penrith at the end of the season.
The Knights released Wes Naiqama from the final two years of a three-year contract he signed last season so he could sign a two-year deal with the Panthers.
But they are keen to keep 23-year-old Kevin, who has been a revelation in his past two games in first grade.
Not surprisingly after Kevin’s stand-out performance against the Warriors in Auckland last Saturday, coach Wayne Bennett retained him in an unchanged team for the game against the Raiders in Canberra on Sunday, so he will play consecutive NRL games for the first time.
Kevin is off contract at the end of the season but Knights officials have kicked off retention negotiations with his manager, Darryl Mather.
Neither the Knights nor Mather will comment about those discussions but Kevin said he was keen to continue his career in Newcastle, even without his big brother alongside him.
‘‘I’m still talking with the club but hopefully I can wrap that up in the next week or so. I definitely want to stay here,’’ Kevin said after training yesterday.
‘‘Wayne’s definitely brought out the best in me. This is my best footy that I’ve been playing this year.’’
The Naiqama brothers joined the Knights from the Dragons at the start of 2008 so next season looks like being the first time they will play at different clubs.
‘‘I’ve always been on the back-burner compared to Wes, but I’m not getting any younger so I have to make a name for myself now and sort out my future,’’ he said.
‘‘It’s unlucky that he’s going. I would have wanted him to stay but obviously it’s a good opportunity for him there at Penrith.
‘‘It’s sad that he’s going but I wish him all the best. I’m not taking his spot or anything like that but at least it’s a different position.
‘‘That makes it a bit easier. He’s in good spirits, and he’s going to do his best for the club for the rest of the season.’’
Filling in for regular left winger James McManus, who will miss four to six weeks recovering from surgery on a fractured eye socket, Kevin scored a try just seconds before half-time in Newcastle’s 24-19 victory over the Warriors at Mt Smart Stadium last Saturday.
That came three weeks after the he scored a 95-metre try among 16 runs for 247 metres filling in at fullback for Queensland Origin representative Darius Boyd in the Knights’ 20-12 victory over the Eels at Parramatta Stadium.
In four NRL games this season, Kevin has averaged 15 runs for 156 metres and has made a total of 18 tackle breaks, including 10 against the Warriors.
‘‘Every time you get the call-up, you just want to do the best for your team,’’ he said.
‘‘You don’t want to let your teammates down.
‘‘Coming off the field knowing I’d done my job, I felt good about that.’’
Kevin hoped to play well enough to make it difficult for Bennett to drop him back to the NSW Cup ranks when McManus returns.
‘‘All I can do is my best,’’ he said.
‘‘This will be the first time I’m playing back-to-back games in first grade, which is great for me, and this is a great opportunity for me.
‘‘It’s a big ask playing back to back, but I know the other boys do it every week so it will be a big challenge for me these next couple of weeks.’’
Bennett retained the same 18-man squad he selected for the Warriors game but gave no indication whether utility forward Marvin Filipo would again be the player omitted.
Halfback Tyrone Roberts is being treated for a minor knee injury but is considered a certainty to line up against Canberra.
Meanwhile, after two months on the sidelines recovering from a series of concussions, veteran utility forward Matt Hilder has been named on the bench for Newcastle’s NSW Cup game against Illawarra Cutters at WIN Stadium on Sunday.
Prop Kyle O’Donnell, who has not played since being knocked out in his NRL debut against Souths on July 8, was named in the front row.