St Helens centre Kevin Naiqama will leave the club at the end of the 2021 season to return home to Australia to spend time with his family.
Naiqama, 32, joined the club ahead of the 2019 season, having signed from the NRL’s Wests Tigers. He has gone on to make 68 appearances so far for St Helens, scoring 35 tries, winning back-to-back Super League crowns and, more recently, the Betfred Challenge Cup.
Naiqama has cited his new-born baby and his family as a key priority after a difficult 18 months because of the pandemic.
“Firstly, I want to thank Eamonn McManus, Mike Rush, Justin Holbrook and Kristian Woolf, who all played a part in giving me the chance to play for this historic club,” said Naiqama in a written statement.
“Woolfie and my team-mates have all been great with me since I arrived and I couldn’t have wished to spend my time here with a better group of players.
“Winning back-to-back Super League titles is something I never thought I would experience over here and to top it off with the Challenge Cup was unreal.
“Off the field, times have been tough for everyone. On a personal note, my wife Lily gave birth to our first born recently. I had to experience the birth of my daughter through FaceTime – in a hospital car park. It’s been the hardest years we have faced as a couple, especially with my wife having to go through that on her own and it naturally caused a lot of traumas for both of us.
“On the back of that, both myself and my wife’s mental health were affected, but I want to thank the club welfare team of Paul Johnson and Dave Kirk for helping us through it.
“I also want to personally thank my wife for her strength in getting through it, without our family to support us. I can’t thank her enough for the sacrifices she has made, which has enabled me to dream and continue to play professional Rugby League and finish off the season here at St Helens.
“I finally want to thank the St Helens fans, who have shown love to me and my family. I’m certainly going to miss St Helens and the community. I want to wish the club all the best in the future, but my focus now is to end with a third Super League crown.”
St Helens coach Kristian Woolf added his appreciation of Naiqama’s contribution to the club.
“I am really proud of Kev and Lily for the way they have handled themselves through some real challenging circumstances,” said Woolf.
“Everyone can understand how difficult it must have been for them over here and having to go through that by themselves.
“Most people in their position would have most likely knocked on my door and asked to go home early, but I am really proud of the fact they have shown that commitment and toughness as a couple to get through it and see out the rest of the year with us at St Helens. I am also really proud of the club and the playing group in how they have supported Kev and Lily.
“I am really happy that Kev is going to be with us for the rest of the year. He is a big-game player for us as his performances in the last few weeks have shown. He is also a real respected member of the team and is a leader. We really enjoy having him around and we would loved to have him for longer. What we do want to do is ensure we make the most of him being apart of our team for the rest of the season and make sure that he returns home with more memories of St Helens.”
In a statement issued on its behalf, St Helens said: “The club fully respects Kevin’s decision and we wish him well for the rest of the season and in his future endeavours.”