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Emotional Kikau ready for 'weird' Penrith return

Bulldogs forward Viliame Kikau is determined to keep his emotions in check as he prepares to face Penrith for the first time since leaving the club. 

Kikau claimed back-to-back NRL premierships with the Panthers in 2021 and 2022 before departing to join Canterbury last season. Injuries, however, denied him the opportunity to play Penrith in 2023.

That will change on Friday night when Canterbury take on the Panthers at BlueBet Stadium in what Kikau knows will be an emotional affair. 

"It's weird," Kikau told "I've got to make sure I prepare the way I've been preparing and nothing changes. Obviously it's exciting and there's definitely going to be a bit of hype. 

"I've been playing at that stadium for seven years. Me and [Stephen Crichton] are just going to go through the process we normally do with any other game. 

"I'm really looking forward to it, it's always good to play the best in the comp and we've got a big test."

Jarome Luai and Viliame Kikau celebrate their 2022 NRL grand final victory.
Jarome Luai and Viliame Kikau celebrate their 2022 NRL grand final victory. ©NRL Photos

Kikau retains strong ties with his former Panthers teammates and continues to live in Penrith.

He is one of a number of ex-Panthers currently in the Bulldogs squad, with captain Stephen Crichton also preparing to face the club for the first time. 

Matt Burton, Jaeman Salmon and coach Cameron Ciraldo have all made the switch in recent seasons and the Penrith influence has played a key role in Canterbury's resurgence this year.

Crichton on his first encounter against former club

Panthers five-eighth Jarome Luai has watched with interest as the Bulldogs have climbed into the top eight and he's expecting a hard-fought contest on Friday night. 

"You see the way they defend, Ciro's really good on defence," Luai said. "At the end of the day, if you know you're footy, defence wins games. 

"It's a really important part of our game, it's a really important part of winning games. I can definitely see the way they're defending that Ciro's got his hands all over that, so they're doing well."

The Bulldogs aren't the only club to lure players away from Penrith, with Luai and Sunia Turuva set to join the Wests Tigers next year and James Fisher-Harris returning to New Zealand to play for the Warriors. 

Despite the exodus, the Panthers have managed to remain the NRL's benchmark and have their sights on a fourth-straight premiership this season. 

It's a testament to the talent pipeline club officials have established, with a host of players stepping up to fill the void left by departed stars over the past few years. 

Luai is excited by the prospect of a new challenge at the Wests Tigers next season, but for now, he's determined to finish his time with Penrith on a high.

"I'm focused on enjoying this moment rather than worrying about what the future's going to be like," Luai said. "I'll deal with it when it gets here.

"It looks like [the ex-Panthers] are enjoying their time over there, they've created a great culture at the Bulldogs. The energy looks great and they're playing great footy. 

"Hopefully I can transition the same way they did, but I'm not too worried about what that's going to look like. I'm focused on enjoying what I have here and enjoying my time that I have left here."

Luai is relieved he will be lining up on the opposite side of the field as Kikau, with halfback Nathan Cleary facing the daunting prospect of slowing the barnstorming forward. 

The Fijian international showed just how dangerous he can be when he ran over the top of Wests Tigers halfback Aidan Sezer last weekend but declared he won't be seeking out Cleary on Friday night.

Big Kikau fend sends Sezer flying

"Cleary is the best player in the world," Kikau said. "He's a great player, he'll be on my side so I've got to be on my best game. 

"We've got to make sure we don't go away from what we're trying to build here, stick to our gameplan and everything will work out."

Acknowledgement of Country

Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs respect and honour the Darug and Eora nations, who are 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.