SAINTS’ Grand Final match-winner Kevin Naiqama signed off at Old Trafford with a two-try display to collect the Harry Sunderland award for the man of the match.

After the presentation he lost no time in seeking out his wife Lily in the crowd to show off the prize.

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It was very much a happy ending for their the pair’s three-year stay in St Helens which took a traumatic turn last December.

And that, he explains, was the major factor in his decision to return to Australia.

At the end of 2020, his pregnant wife contracted Covid, and so when she went into labour Naiqama was not allowed to be present at the birth.

Instead, the special moment he and his wife had both looked forward to sharing had to be done via FaceTime with the Saints centre relegated to the hospital car park as little Maia Grace entered the world.

Outlining those events is still something that understandably makes him quite emotional.

Naiqama said: “It was tough. Experiencing your daughter’s birth from the car park and being turned away is still something that is still hard to process for myself.

“It was something I was really looking forward to, being the first face that my daughter sees coming into the world.

“But at the end of that I had a great support network that club provided.

“I love this club and what they have done for me.

“I would like to thank Woolfy – not only is he a good coach but he thinks about the welfare of the players.

“He really checked in with me to make sure I was OK and club chaplain helped too, with the counselling they provided.”

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This, rather than any other factor, means that despite still playing at top-notch level Naiqama is leaving.

He has confirmed he will retire from rugby league – but his two tries meant he signed off on a high.

The Fijian test skipper scored the first try of the game in a tight first half and helped give Saints a narrow lead at the break.

In the game of cat and mouse Dragons took the lead again when, with Tommy Makinson in the sin-bin, Mike McMeeken collected a palmed back kick.

However Naiqama won the race to Jonny Lomax’s kick to score his second time – which with Lachlan Coote’s conversion proved to be the winning score.

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Despite the triumph Naiqama confirmed he hasn’t changed his mind.

“It was not an easy decision and me and my wife waited for a couple of months,” he said.

“I have enjoyed my time here at St Helens and this group of players and coaching staff have been amazing, not just on the field but off it as well.

“They have been a great support network for me and my wife and that is something we are grateful for.

“I’m definitely going to miss this team, the coaching staff, the players, the fans.

“The whole three years we have really enjoyed our stay here, I cannot speak highly enough of the club.

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“They have done more for me than I have done for them, they have given me so much joy and instilled a love for the game again.

“I have really enjoyed my football here – the culture that they have has been a big plus for me.

“Everyone works hard and what they buy into.

“I am just really grateful.

“It is definitely the right time for me, my wife and my baby to go home.”

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Naiqama copped a knee to the head as he scored – something that left him with mixed emotions when he came off.

“I was in a bit of pain, but I did not want to come off and let the team down.

“It was a big game and I wanted to play every minute of it.

“I tried to talk to the physio and doc, but they made a medical decision that was right for my health.

“They put Jack Welsby on there who has done an exceptional job.

“I am just glad that the boys got the job done and the way we ground that win out till the final hooter is going to take a while to process.

“All I wanted to do was do my job and do what we had to do to win, at the end of the day we have got the result and it’s something that is been building for three years.

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“I am so glad what we have achieved – it is not easy to achieve so we’re just going to enjoy this and reminisce and reflect on what we have accomplished.

“This is my last game as a professional player, you talk about a fairy-tale ending, you could not have written a better script.

“I think it’s time for retirement, but just with Covid and other factors outside of rugby it has led to my decision to go back home.

“It was not taken lightly, but for me it is about going back home and focusing on the next chapter with my family.”

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The 32-year-old was delighted to receive the Harry Sunderland Trophy from Rob Burrow after the game.

“It’s an honour to receive it from Rob Burrow himself, he is a true legend of the game who won so much and I was so grateful to meet him and, being the first Fijian player to win the award, I am glad it is something I did.

“I could not written a better script. It was my last time here, last time with this group and last time being coached by Woolfy.”

“There is a lot of stuff to process – I am a very emotional person and I am not afraid to show it,” he said.