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Time to talk the talk: Kikau finding his voice at Penrith

Softly spoken Viliame Kikau is trying to turn himself into a loud-mouthed back-rower.

Penrith coaches are doing their best to bring about the personality switch in their talented forward.

And you'd think with nicknames like "Bill" and "Kiks" he would have that chatter-box kind of nature.

But it is all a bit alien to the 24-year-old Fijian international. It is also something he is trying to rectify.

"Obviously being on the edge and in the back row you make a lot of reads on the halves. One of the things I've been working hard on is my communication as well," Kikau told NRL.com.

"I'm not really a big talker on the field so the coaches are always giving me a slap on the backside to remind me to talk more.

"They think that I can be one of the leaders now as opposed to being just one of the boys in the team.

"So I've been working hard one communicating more with the players inside and outside of me – speaking up more, talking a little louder."

The Panthers celebrate a Viliame Kikau try.
The Panthers celebrate a Viliame Kikau try. ©Gregg Porteous/NRL Photos

Putting a bit of verbal grunt into his football might also have other welcome flow-on effects for the Panthers, even though he already averages 124 metres per game and makes around four tackle breaks a match.

Kikau says that the emphasis for him in the 2020 pre-season has been his defence. His tackle efficiency sits around 83%. And although he sits just outside the top 20 across the NRL for the number of missed tackle in 2019, Kikau played between four and six games less than those above him.

That was because he missed the opening chunk of the season after damaging his knee in a trial game against the Rabbitohs last February.

He is putting his hand up to play the trial against the Wests Tigers (February 22) next month and is not overly anxious at history repeating itself.

"Honestly. Not really. You can't really predict when you're going to get injured," Kikau said.

"Last year I didn't see it coming. It was a really bad grade two tear – almost grade three – so I really don't want to be getting injured again.

"But I've been working hard on my defence this year and my whole body feels stronger."

Defence is a big ticket item these days at Penrith's foot of the Blue Mountains training academy.

From 13 of the Panthers losses in 2019, 12 by were 20 points or more.

"Defence has been hammered into us for sure. But two other things that have stood out for us stats-wise from last year was our poor completions and our errors," Kikau said.

"We were one of the worst teams in the comp for those. And that's when teams put points on us.

"You can't win games with the level of errors we were making."

Five key match-ups of the Panthers' 2020 draw

The Panthers were the worst in the NRL for missed tackles and in the top-five for errors (5th) and penalties conceded (3rd).

The irony of all that is that the Roosters led the errors of all 16 clubs and the Raiders topped the amount of penalties conceded – yet both made the grand final. The flipside is that in attack the Roosters or Raiders led the way in terms of line breaks, post-contact metres, all runs, tries, points and field goals.

Whichever way the Panthers' season falls, Kikau will be front and centre. He is about to enter his fourth NRL season and is one of the highest-profile players at the club.

Again, the limelight is not something Kikau feels comfortable under even though you can't miss him at 195cm and 119kg.

"For me personally I always ask my partner Brittany. She watches everything I do, follows my games, and knows me better than anyone else in this team," he said.

"So I turn to her if I feel a little unease being in the spotlight with everyone looking at me. If she sees something she doesn't think is right, she'll be honest with me and we talk it through."