Hunters Prove Fiji Needs Aussie Team: Naiqama
The improvement in the PNG Kumuls Test team since the PNG Hunters were admitted into Queensland's Intrust Super Cup in 2014 shows why Fiji needs an equivalent team in the NSW competition, according to Wests Tigers centre Kevin Naiqama.
Naiqama was disappointed to have to sit out the Bati's thrilling, narrow loss to an impressive Kumuls outfit in the Pacific Test double header last Saturday night at Pirtek Stadium but he was on the sidelines as the Kumuls engineered an upset victory, with the bulk of the team made up of Hunters players.
Fiji's NSW Cup bid, led by Fiji and Kangaroos legend Petero Civoniceva, is expected to soon know whether it will have a chance to feature in the newly rebranded Intrust Super Premiership and Naiqama hopes for the sake of the development of the game in his home country the bid is successful.
"I totally agree with getting the Fijian boys to that level," Naiqama told NRL.com.
"NSW Cup is no park footy, you've got first graders playing in that and full time people playing in that comp so getting Fijian people exposed to that comp will only better the country in helping them moving forward to compete with the 'Big Three' (Australia, New Zealand and England) and making us a competitive side.
"I was talking to Petero and he reckons we're not too far from getting an answer and if we can get that going I definitely think we'll be a nation to watch out for going into the World Cup next year."
Naiqama said the chance for local Fijian players to mix it with NRL players at the recent camp had in itself boosted the confidence of those players, and the eye-catching efforts of winger Etuate Qionimacawa in scoring a hat-trick of tries is testament to this.
"He's one of the locals from Fiji so with me not playing it gave him the opportunity to play. He scored three tries which was real good, he was real happy playing at that level and that's what it's about, giving people opportunities. That might get his foot in the door with some clubs," Naiqama said.
"There's untapped talent back in Fiji and if they can get that NSW Cup team going next year it will be positive signs for our country moving forward and also spreading the game in Fiji."
The performance of the Kumuls shows a drastic improvement over recent years, which Naiqama said was proof the players had learned from their time competing against Australian professionals.
"Them being in that comp, I think it educates them as well. When you think about it Australia is probably the toughest comp when it comes to rugby league and giving the PNG Hunters exposure to that sort of rugby league, it definitely makes them better," he said.
"When they played on the weekend, usually you're used to seeing them rush out and bash up people but there was also some structure to the way they played which is a credit to them being in that comp, they've learned that. They've come such a long way so it's really good."
Naiqama said the whole event was a success in terms of the high quality of football put on by the Pacific teams, including in the Samoa v Tonga game, and was disappointed to have to sit out but needed to get himself right for this Sunday's match against Canterbury.
"I did a little strain to my groin playing the Rabbitohs game [in Round 9] and when they got the scan back they didn't want to risk it, they wanted me to be right for this week's game," he said.
"Obviously I was disappointed because I wanted to represent my country but at the same time it was probably the smartest decision.
"But It's good that the NRL puts it on once a year, I enjoyed it, it was definitely entertaining footy and there was also that physicality there that everyone loves watching. All in all it was an entertaining day."
This article first appeared on NRL.com