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Accidental 'Fat Club' captaincy propels Kikau to career year

Viliame Kikau's award-winning 2020 form can be traced back to a couple of torturous pre-season months spent in Penrith's infamous "fat club".

When he didn't need to be there.

Kikau returns to the Panthers' grand final line-up from suspension as 118 kilos of game-breaking muscle, his career-best form crowned earlier this week with Dally M Second-rower of the Year honours.

The Fijian's campaign started almost 12 months ago now in markedly different fashion, with Kikau signed up for extra afternoon torture sessions under veteran trainer Craig Catterick.

"We had him in the fat squad during the pre-season doing extra work," Panthers head of performance Hayden Knowles told

"But it turns out that was because the dietitian, when they did the skinfolds, they would be taken from his legs and not elsewhere on his body.

"So Billy's in the fat squad but he walked into the gym one day with his shirt off and he's got abs.

"I called Ivan over and said 'what are we doing? This is not a bloke that belongs in fat club, we'll burn him out if we keep flogging him'.

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"He would've done it for a month or two, just doing what he's told.

"There'd be these massive days of pre-season where you'd get tired watching them, and Billy would stay back til 7pm at night doing an extra session.

Panthers grand final media conference

"So we got him out of those sessions and let him look after that with his own discipline around what he eats and how he trains."

Kikau could only grin when re-living the mix-up during grand final week. 

The pay-off is a fitness edge he otherwise would not have, with every extra hour of cardio inside the Panthers academy adding a little more petrol to one of the game's most powerful engines.

Rather than rue the nightly sessions after a full day's training, Kikau embraced them and dubbed himself captain of the fat club.

"Every time I come back from off-season I definitely know I'm going to be in the fat club," he laughed.

"I just know straight away. I've been captain of the fat club for a few years now.

"I didn't find out I wasn't meant to be there until later. It didn't bother me, the actual training.

"Craig Catterick knows how to make us get angry at him, they're pretty tough [sessions].

"We don't do any running or anything, it's just cardio inside, the bikes, rowers or boxing. It's just a big sweat out to get the boys fit.

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"I'm just the one talking [as captain]. Especially during pre-season when you're getting flogged throughout the day and then you have to do another session it's pretty hard, so heaps of the younger boys get into the fat club.

"I just try to chat the boys up and get some energy up."

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Kikau's return against the Storm is a welcome one for his left-edge partner in crime Jarome Luai.

Together they have wrought havoc repeatedly throughout Penrith's 17-game winning streak, with Kikau scoring seven tries and Luai laying on 22 assists for his teammates.

Panthers v Storm - Grand final

"He takes so many defenders away from me, he's that much of a threat," Luai said.

"He's a big body - he's probably the biggest out there - we've used him in different ways this year and that's been one key to our success.

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"I've called him my bodyguard this whole year. It's definitely good to have him back.

"He's fresh and ready to go and he's excited. I can't wait to get out and compete against Melbourne with that big guy next to me."

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Acknowledgement of Country

Penrith Panthers players and staff respect and honour the traditional custodians of the land and pay our respects to their elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.