St Helens centre Kevin Naiqama is to quit the Super League champions at the end of this season and return to Australia for family reasons.
The 32-year-old Fijian international has scored 35 tries in 68 appearances since joining Saints on a three-year deal from Wests Tigers ahead of the 2019 season.
Naiqama says he made the decision to return home after experiencing difficulties caused by the pandemic and, in particular, having to witness the recent birth of his first child through FaceTime in a hospital car park.
In a statement issued by the club, Naiqama said: “Woolfie (coach Kristian Woolf) and my teammates 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 the 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.”
Woolf said: “I am really proud of Kev and Lily for the way they have handled themselves through some real challenging circumstances.
“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 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.”