As a child, Viliame Kikau looked up to his older brother. He still does, but now for a totally different reason.
NRL.com joined the Penrith Panthers forward on his return to Fiji to visit his family and reconnect with one of his biggest inspirations, his brother Jope.
Jope was the sporting star of the family – he left home when he was 19 and travelled to New Zealand to pursue his rugby union dreams.
But in May of 2010 Jope’s life would change forever – he was rushed to hospital where had to undergo surgery for an epidural abscess (spinal infection) and when he woke up his body was completely numb.
The sad events still haunt Kikau and his family who live in the Fijian town of Nausori. The Panthers back-rower said a call to his brother was a regular part of his game-day routine.
“I love my brother,” Viliame said.
“We always talk on the phone on game day. I looked up to him as a little kid. I will never play as good as him.
“But when I run out there I know they’re all shouting here [in Fiji].”
Viliame followed in his brother’s footsteps growing up, representing Fiji at a young age in rugby union, before catching the eye of the North Queensland. He went on to make for himself by setting try-scoring records in the Cowboys NYC side.
Kikau, now an NRL star, said moving away from his family to Townsville wasn’t easy.
“It was tough to leave home to go to a new environment and speak English every single day,” Viliame said.
I always tell myself, he’s living my dream
Jope Kikau on his brother Viliame
“I was crying in bed at the home where I was living at in Townsville – that was just two weeks of being down there and I was planning to pack my bags and come back home.
“I don’t know what happened [but] overnight, I just woke up with a fresh mind.”
As much as Jope has been Viliame’s inspiration to follow his dreams, Viliame gives Jope just as much motivation.
“I always tell myself, he’s living my dream,” Jope laughed.
“I always see him when he plays and it gives me that hope to carry on and to see him do stuff in the NRL.
“I know when he was just a little kid and we would always bully him around but to see him play against big names in the NRL, it’s an unexplainable feeling.”
Prior to this trip with NRL.com, Viliame made a trip back Fiji after the 2018 season. Every time he returns he makes the most of time with his family.
“This is the blessing that keeps me grounded when I’m home,” Viliame said.
“I can’t really explain the feeling you get when you come back home. It’s a bit emotional to be honest.”