Two more positions on Wayne Bennett’s roster for next season were filled when the Newcastle Knights won a tug of war for Wes Naiqama yesterday and re-signed his younger brother, Kevin, as well.
Wes, the Fijian Test captain, knocked back a three-year deal from St George Illawarra to accept an identical tenure with the Knights, whom he joined in 2008.
Kevin, who made his NRL debut last year but has been confined to playing for Central Coast Centurions in the NSW Cup this season, agreed to a one-year extension.
Newcastle coach Rick Stone, who will be Bennett’s assistant next season, said Wes deserved to be rewarded for consistently outstanding contributions this season.
The 28-year-old is the only Knight to have played in every minute of all 14 games this season. In the process he has scored four tries, made eight line breaks – second only to his right-edge partner, Akuila Uate – and kicked 17 goals.
‘‘The clincher was the extra year and we sort of jigged that around a little bit,’’ Stone said yesterday.
‘‘His form has earned him that.
‘‘His form this year has been terrific. He’s been one of our best players every game.
‘‘He’s played the most consistent footy of his career.’’
Naiqama’s hot streak could hardly have been better timed.
A couple of months ago it appeared Bennett was ambivalent about retaining him.
But after each game, Naiqama enhanced his bargaining position and soon was weighing up offers from Cronulla, Sydney Roosters and the Dragons, with whom he began his NRL career in 2005.
Newcastle initially offered a two-year deal, which the Dragons trumped.
When the Knights matched the premiers’ offer, the Dragons extended their deal by another year.
Newcastle again matched those terms but still Naiqama was torn between the clubs.
At one stage in negotiations, Naiqama’s agent, Darryl Mather, indicated his client was favouring the Dragons because they could guarantee him the fullback position, which Darius Boyd will vacate when he joins the Knights.
Mather said Naiqama was concerned that Newcastle’s decision to recruit Boyd and Timana Tahu would reduce his chances of holding down a starting position.
But it is understood the utility back was assured that if he maintained his form, it would be up to Tahu to displace him once the Penrith centre has recovered from a torn pectoral muscle.
Kevin Naiqama, who is smaller than Wes but faster, has established a reputation as a lower-grade try merchant.
He scored 19 tries in his two years in Newcastle’s under 20s and 18 tries for the Centurions last season.
This year, Kevin has scored eight tries for Newcastle’s feeder team, who are equal sixth in the 11-team NSW Cup.