Viliame Kikau admits getting the opportunity to vice-captain Fiji this weekend will be one of the biggest honours of his career.
Despite the Premiership taking a break for NRL Representative Round, no less than 19 Panthers players will still be in action for various teams this weekend.
This Saturday evening Kikau will help lead the Fiji Bati side alongside Kevin Naiqama when they take on Papua New Guinea at Campbelltown Sports Stadium.
Saturday night’s blockbuster clash against the Kumuls will be the first time the 27-year-old has represented his homeland since the Rugby League World Cup 9s back in 2019.
Speaking with the Weekender, Kikau said he couldn’t wait to get into camp and meet some of his new teammates.
“Some old faces will be there and there will definitely be heaps of new faces too – it’s always a good camp to be in,” he said.
“I like it because some of the boys who weren’t born in Fiji get to learn heaps about the culture and the boys that come from Fiji, like myself, are always happy to share stories about home. I’m really looking forward to it.”
While Kikau has had unofficial leadership roles in the past, this will be the first time the powerhouse backrower has vice-captained his country.
Kikau said he credits one key person at Panthers for turning him into a better leader on and off the field.
“That’s one of the things I’ve been trying to learn the last couple of years, is taking a leadership role around here,” he said outside Panthers HQ last week.
“I had a tap on the shoulder from Ivan and he always tells me, ‘you’ve got to be a leader now, you’ve got to lead the team, you’ve got to talk more’, so that’s what I’ve been doing.
“I’ll never say ‘no’ to playing for my country and if I get that honour of vice-captain, that would be massive for me and my family and everyone back home.”
Debuting with the Panthers in 2017, Kikau is in career-best form this season. He’s consistently playing 80 minutes per game and has already scored six tries in 15 matches this year.
“I wasn’t always going to play 80 at the start of my NRL career, that’s for sure, but I’ve learned and experienced a lot and I’m playing whole games now,” Kikau admitted.
Bulldogs-bound in 2023, Kikau said his one and only focus is to get Penrith to the mountaintop again and win another Premiership.
“I think for us the biggest challenge is going from great to great again, which was one of the themes back in pre-season,” he said.
“It’s so hard when you’ve reached the highest point and then you have to go back down and start again. Pre-season built us really well for this. Experience comes with it as well.
“Losing in 2020 and then 2021 we had to go down again to get back up. Same case this year. So, the boys know what it takes to be up there, and that mindset drives us every single day.”
Nathan Taylor is the Weekender’s Deputy Editor and Senior Sports Writer. He also compiles the weekly Chatter on the Box TV column. Nathan is an award-winning journalist, who has worked at the Weekender for a decade.