Off-field changes driving Kikau to new heights
He's one of the biggest forwards in the Telstra Premiership but Viliame Kikau still feels like the little man each time he steps onto the paddock.
For all the size Kikau possesses, the Fijian international - who stands at 195cm and weighs in at 120kg - has worked overtime to fast-track his game after an inconsistent rookie year in 2017.
"I've had no time to run over players like I used to do in 20s," Kikau told NRL.com.
"Teams are up in your face a lot quicker and I'm versing older men who are experienced.
"Playing 20s was a whole different story, the contact now and tactics in the game can take a while to get used to and last year was a big learning curve for me."
Kikau was restricted to nine appearances last year and developed his game under former coach Garth Brennan in the Intrust Super Premiership – the man who will be out to find Kikau's weaknesses on Sunday when the Titans arrive in town.
Some words of advice from Panthers teammates James Tamou, Trent Merrin and Peter Wallace have helped the 23-year-old find his feet in the opening five rounds of the season.
"If I had to put it down to one thing it's his professionalism off the field has changed," Tamou said of Kikau.
"I don't think he needed to change his style of play or anything like that. Teams will get into him a bit more but what do you do? He's too big.
"But it's a different ball game and can take a while for young kids to adjust. He's trained and hung around first grade players for a while now to realise what it takes to play consistent grade."
Tamou recalled meeting Kikau for the first time at the Cowboys in 2014, admitting at the time he was "devastated" the club could let the giant forward slip through their fingers.
"He was just very softly spoken, fresh off the boat as they say," Tamou said.
"I'm quite proud of where he's come from. I remember the Cowboys bringing him through from Fiji with two other boys.
"I was able to hang around them and watch him play. He was such a talent. When he left the Cowboys, I knew there was a talent they lost and was filthy about it.
"Everyone is seeing it now for what he is capable of."
Meanwhile, Tamou expects an intriguing battle in Sunday's clash against the Titans.
Former Panthers forwards Bryce Cartwright and Mitch Rein are in Gold Coast's 17-man squad, while former Penrith prop Leilani Latu has been named on the reserves bench.
They were released by the Panthers over the pre-season and Tamou insisted their departures were all in good faith.
"Speaking from experience it's always easy to get up for it and be motivated," Tamou said.
"Going up against the Cowboys I just wanted to play well.
"They have so much respect for Garth Brennan as we all do, so will want to play well for him.
"I don't see it getting out of control, some of us are still really good friends."