Super League grand final hero Kevin Naiqama has confirmed he's played his last game of rugby league – and the former NRL star has hailed it as a fairytale farewell.
But as the former Wests Tigers flyer celebrated his perfect goodbye to his 'threepeating' St Helens side, a row was still raging over Catalans Dragons' 12-10 defeat in Saturday's European rugby league showpiece at Old Trafford.
Catalans' president Bernard Guasch raged that he wouldn't allow his team to play a final under English referees again because he was so infuriated by the officiating of official Liam Moore – and he demanded that Australian refs are used in the future.
Nothing, though, could deflect the joy of 32-year-old Fijian centre Naiqama, who bowed out as player of the match for his two decisive tries, receiving the Harry Sunderland Trophy from the inspirational Rob Burrow, the eight-time grand final winner who's now battling with Motor Neurone Disease.
It had already been known that Naiqama would be returning back home to Australia after the match but he took the opportunity afterwards to declare it had been his last match.
“This is my last game as a professional player. You talk about a fairytale ending, you could not have written a better script,” said the emotional Naiqama.
“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.”
However, Naiqama, who performed with distinction at Newcastle Knights, Penrith Panthers and Wests, did perhaps leave the door ajar for a possible NRL return when he conceded at the post-match conference: “If that call came, I wouldn't put the phone down.
“I would explore that – but it will probably be my last game.”
It was definitely the last game for Catalans' cult figure Jimmy Maloney, who is hanging up his boots after a distinguished career that saw him win two NRL grand finals.
Maloney was also at the centre of the incident that so enraged Guasch when he was clearly punched by Saints' forward Sione Mata'utia, the former Australian Test player, early in the game in an off-the-ball incident seemingly missed by referee Moore.
Moore also didn't spot how Saints' fullback Lachlan Coote – another Australian who, like Naiqama, was bowing out from the club with a hat-trick of wins – had put his foot in touch as he palmed a Catalans' penalty back into play.
Guasch says the French club will send a dossier of their complaints about crucial incidents to the Rugby Football League and he's adamant that neutral referees are needed in future.
“As long as I'm president of the Catalans Dragons, I'll never play a Super League final again until we have three Australian referees,” he said.
“I'm furious, at some point I say stop? I wanted to react like an English gentleman because I have a lot of respect for this competition.
“I saw the match again and I tell myself that I cannot let this go by without reacting and making a decision.”
But Saints' Australian coach Kristian Woolf defended the referee, saying: “I thought Liam did a good job, I did not agree with every decision but I thought things went both ways.”Internet Explorer Channel Network