Kevin Naiqama out to cement wing spot

KNIGHTS winger Kevin Naiqama wants to make it as difficult as he can for coach Wayne Bennett to drop him when James McManus returns from injury later this month.

McManus was ruled out for four to six weeks after surgery on a fractured eye socket, which he sustained before scoring two tries in Newcastle’s 32-6 victory over Manly on July 14.

Looking more than comfortable as McManus’s replacement, Naiqama has played in three straight games, against the Warriors, Raiders and Bulldogs, and will again line up on the left wing against Cronulla at Hunter Stadium on Monday night.

The 23-year-old Fijian international has scored three tries, averaged 17 runs for 170metres a game, made three line breaks and 21 tackle breaks in his past three appearances, and was rewarded last Friday with a one-year contract extension.

‘‘I’m happy it’s all done,’’ Naiqama said. ‘‘It was dragging for a little bit but I’m happy to play another year under Wayne, and hopefully learn a bit more and have a bigger year next year.’’

Naiqama was limping at training yesterday after aggravating an ankle injury in the Knights’ 26-10 loss to the Bulldogs last Saturday but said he would be ready to play against Cronulla.

‘‘I just pulled up a bit sore from the game but I should be all good for Monday,’’ he said.

Fully fit, McManus and Aku Uate stand out as Newcastle’s first-choice wingers, but Naiqama is in no hurry to hand back his No.2 jersey when McManus becomes available in the next few weeks.

‘‘It’s definitely a competition for that spot but it’s all good,’’ he said.

‘‘We’re real good mates off the field and we just leave it to Wayne. All we can do is put in a good performance for the team and do our job, and leave it for him to pick the side.

‘‘Each game I get more confident with the pace of the game and fit in with how the team wants to play, so the more games I get, the better I feel I’m getting as a player.’’

Meanwhile, Knights back-rower Marvin Filipo will have surgery today to repair a fractured eye socket sustained in Newcastle’s 22-0 NSW Cup loss to Illawarra Cutters on July 29. He is expected to be out for up to six weeks.

Off contract at the end of the season, Filipo will need the Knights to make a deep run into the NRL or NSW Cup finals to have a chance of playing again this season.

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