Fiji international Kevin Naiqama says it will be a surreal moment when he steps onto the pitch at Old Trafford on Saturday, having envisaged such a moment in his first week in the country.
The 30-year-old former Wests Tigers centre has played a significant role in St Helens’ march to the Grand Final, producing a string of impressive performances to force his way into the Super League Dream Team in his first season with the club.
Naiqama never got to play in a Grand Final in the NRL but fate has determined that he will achieve the ambition with his new club.
“I came here in my first week in England,” he said at the Grand Final media day at Old Trafford. “It was November and fast forward 11 months it’s pretty surreal to be playing here.
“I came with my wife to watch the (Manchester United) game against Crystal Palace and I was telling her that, if we make the Grand Final next year, this is where we’ll be playing.
“We looked around and the atmosphere was electric. It’s just a great thing to be a part of. I’m definitely going to enjoy it.”
St Helens are the firm favourites to claim a seventh Super League title, five years since their last, against a Salford team appearing in their maiden Grand Final.
But Justin Holbrook’s men have already experienced an upset this year, having lost to underdogs Warrington at Wembley, and Naiqama says that defeat still hurts.
“We set this goal as a team at the start of the season and we’re here but the job’s not done,” he said.
“Obviously we experienced disappointment in the Challenge Cup final and we know how much that hurt so we’re using that as part of our motivation but understanding too that Salford’s not going to be an easy team.
“They’re very competitive and they’ve proven that over the course of the year, especially at the back end of it.
“It’s going to be an entertaining game but also a very physical one I reckon.”
Victory on Saturday would provide a fitting farewell to the popular Holbrook as he prepares to head back to the NRL, especially having suffered semi-final heartbreak in both major competitions in 2018.
“Justin being the man he is, he doesn’t like it to make it about himself,” Naiqama said. “Obviously the ultimate dream would be to send him off as a winner.
“But it’s going to be whoever the best team is on the day. It’s great that we finished 16 points clear and created history but that’s done and it literally doesn’t mean anything.
“This decides who the real champion is for the year.
“I wasn’t here last year but after the season the boys had, to fall one short was disappointing.
“We’re really hungry and desperate to lift some silverware. I think we owe it to ourselves and also the fans of St Helens.
“I think that’s when we’ll finally be able to rest and be happy with the season we’ve had.”