Fiji captain Kevin Naiqama is living the dream as he prepares to play in a Grand Final for the second year in a row.
The 31-year-old former Newcastle Knights, Penrith and Wests Tigers centre enjoyed a fairytale finish to his first season in Super League by helping St Helens to a 23-6 win over Salford at Old Trafford in October 2019.
And his hat-trick of tries in Friday’s 48-2 semi-final rout of Catalans Dragons has set up a derby showdown with Wigan in Hull next Friday, when Saints will seek to become the first team to win back-to-back Grand Finals since Leeds retained the title in 2012.
“I’m loving it here,” Naiqama said. “It’s gone so quickly. I couldn’t have dreamed of a better first two seasons than playing in two GFs.”
After running out in front of a 64,102 crowd at Old Trafford 13 months ago, Naiqama appreciates the contrast he will experience behind closed doors at the KCOM Stadium but insists it will not detract from the occasion.
“It’s definitely different, for sure, that’s just the new climate we’re in,” he said. “You’re having to adapt and do the best you can.
“Old Trafford is such a historical place and then taking the crowd out of it as well, it’s definitely a mental challenge, you’re creating that energy with your team.
“But it doesn’t take away from the occasion, it’s a Grand Final at the end of the day and they don’t come around too often.
“I’ve been playing 12 or 13 years as a professional and this is only the second one I’ve been able to play in.
“It’s not going to take away the excitement, I can tell you that. The boys are definitely excited and looking forward to this game.”
Saints will go into the clash on a high following their eight-try hammering of the Dragons but still smarting from an 18-6 defeat by Wigan at the Totally Wicked Stadium in their last match of the regular season three weeks earlier.
Naiqama says they have learned their lessons from that day and will be motivated by the chance to redeem themselves.
“Wigan have been the top side all year,” he said. “They showed that every week and they beat us here a couple of weeks ago.
“When someone beats you, you obviously want to play them again. You want another opportunity to challenge them, to sort of redeem yourself, and what better opportunity to do that than in a Grand Final?
“It was a tough, physical game and we know what we’re going to get against them. They’re going to come at us all guns blazing.
“For me personally and I think as a team collectively, you learn your biggest battles in your losses.
“Obviously we would have wanted to win that game but we took a lot out of it. If anything, it builds some fire there.
“There’s a lot of history and rivalry and also a lot of respect between the two teams.
“It’s probably the biggest game in the calendar for rugby league here. You want to play in those big games.
“We’ve been the two top teams in the competition this year and at the end of the year that’s what you want to see, the most consistent teams going at it.”
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