Before Viliame Kikau became Penrith's destructive weapon, he studied Jason Taumalolo at Cowboys training.
Recruited to play under-20s by North Queensland in 2013 after they witnessed his raw ability in Fiji school footy, Kikau would watch Taumalolo practise with the NRL squad and marvel at his size, skill and agility.
"He's one of the players that I looked up to - obviously I played 20s at the Cows. Just seeing him at training, how big he is naturally. And just how he plays, footwork - he's got everything," Kikau said.
In an alternate world, the massive pair may be leading the Cowboys forward pack together and terrorising opposition defences.
In this reality, however, Kikau departed North Queensland at the end of 2015 after a phenomenal two seasons in the National Youth Competition where he scored 32 tries in 42 matches.
But while the 24-year-old back-rower is now a cornerstone player for the Panthers, he remains fond of the Cowboys and can't wait to face them at 1300SMILES Stadium on Friday night with Taumalolo to return from a foot problem.
"It's all positive motivation. They're a great club. They looked after me - they were the one that saw me when I was playing back in Fiji with nothing at school," he said.
"They gave me that opportunity over here ... I'm always excited to play in Townsville. I've got some family friends up there as well and I'm really excited to go up there this weekend."
Kikau stressed the importance of limiting Taumalolo's impact - a task easier said than done.
"We've got to do our homework and make sure we shut him down," Kikau said. "[The Cowboys] don't have a run at the eight but they'll try to spoil some other teams' hopes."
Kikau is attempting to balance his trademark aggression with "safe" play to ensure he falls into line with the strict guidelines on dangerous contact introduced mid-season.
But he still can't comprehend why he was slugged with a two-game ban for a shoulder charge on back-up St George Illawarra halfback Darren Nicholls in July.
"Halves these days, they're not that big in size so I'm just going to look after how I tackle. I've got to do my best to still have my aggression there but just do it in a safe way," Kikau said.
"Obviously being out for two weeks ... I don't know how I got two weeks for that.
"I'm a bit more careful. I've still got to hit [playmakers] ... I still have to do my aggression for the team but I've just got to do it in a safe way."
Ninth-placed Penrith's season could well be decided by the Cowboys clash with the team close to a sudden-death position after a poor loss to Brisbane.
"We're just utterly disappointed in our performance [against the Broncos] ... We can't turn up like we did last week," Kikau said.