Fijian prop, Viliame “Vili” Kikau made an instant impact on his NRL debut, helping Penrith overcome the disappointment of last week’s surprise loss to the Dragons, to record a dominant win over the Wests Tigers.
Vili became Penrith’s 567th first grade player courtesy of a last-minute call-up by coach Anthony Griffin after Tim Browne ruled out with back spasms.
Latest Panther sensation, Viliame Kikau. Credit 77 Media
Having trained with the Intrust Super Premiership all week, Kikau was shocked but excited when told of his call-up, having realised a life-long dream of playing in the NRL.
“I didn’t really find out until just before captain’s run when Hook called me to come in,” Kikau told Nepean News.
“Afterwards he gave me the heads up and I was hyped and a bit nervous all at once.”
But the joy of being told that he was making his NRL debut was quickly tempered by the fact he knew he had to contact his family at a time when they were grieving over the death of his uncle Tui, whom Kikau says he was extremely close to.
“I just waited for the right moment because I knew Mum and Dad were coming back from the funeral feeling a bit emotional,” Kikau explained.
“I told Mum I got picked to play in the first grade team and make my debut tomorrow. “Mum didn’t know what to say. It was emotional for her.
“I think she had a few tears but Dad was really happy about it.
“I was really close to him (uncle Tui) as we go way, way back.
“He’s been a big influence, making sure that growing up as a kid I was doing the right things.”
Kikau’s 25 minutes at Campbelltown Sports Stadium were certainly memorable.
A try with just his second touch of the ball and a bone-rattling hit on James Tedesco late in the first-half alone left Panthers coach Anthony Griffin impressed by his efforts on debut.
“It was great to see him get that try and he had a couple of really strong carries,” Griffin said. “It’s great that whenever you see someone debut. I was really happy for him today.
“He’s shown what he’s capable of and his potential.”
But after the game the 2015 RLPA Holden Cup player of the year was simply humbled by the experience, admitting he didn’t think his NRL debut would come so soon.
“I was really grateful for the opportunity to get the call up and I took it with both hands,” Kikau said. “I came out here with the goal to play hard and tackle hard but I’m grateful to get that try on my debut.
“To get a chance this early it’s just surreal. I didn’t really expect it. “Hook just told me to keep working hard because I missed all pre-season last year.”
The path to the NRL with Penrith has been far from smooth-sailing for Kikau, having missed most of last season’s pre-season and most of the opening half of the 2016 season due to an ongoing ankle issue.
That was compounded by visa issues which scuttled a possible NRL debut against the Warriors, instead playing an Intrust Super Premiership game against Newtown that ended badly as the 195cm, 120kg prop suffered severe concussion and a badly broken nose.
But despite the setbacks, Kikau was determined not to lose sight of his goals.
“It was tough and a bit painful as well as I was one step (away) from getting a run but I knew I had to keep working at it,” Kikau said.
“Moyza (Moylan) when he had the same ankle rehab as mine, he was telling me to keep working hard on rehab and that I’ll get my time.”