UNION: Kenny gets to grips with new rugby life

FROM the moment Kenny Viliamu arrived at Disneyland this season, he knew he had giant boots to fill.

The departure of former Waikato Chiefs lock and All Blacks squad member Mark Burman in February to Japanese second-division club Tokyo Gas meant the Lake Macquarie No.5 jersey was vacant.

Yet Viliamu, who joined the Roos from ITM Cup side Southland, has proven an able replacement, given his no-nonsense hard running and varied sporting background.

Besides rugby union, the 21-year-old has won Greco-Roman heavyweight wrestling titles for New Zealand at the Oceania Games and earned a gridiron scholarship with Ohio State University as a defensive linebacker.

‘‘They were my two sports growing up, and I’ve only recently come back to rugby,’’ Viliamu said. ‘‘I did wrestling for all my high school years, as well as American football.

‘‘I was the national secondary school wrestling champion back home.’’

Many of the skills Viliamu learnt in wrestling and gridiron have helped his rugby.

‘‘The defensive side of things and tackling are very similar,’’ he said. ‘‘Going into rucks and cleaning them out is like wrestling almost.

‘‘I’ve just been getting a feel for Australian rugby. It’s not as fast as New Zealand rugby, but it’s still good and physical.’’

Burman gave the lineout serious spring last year and provided consistent yardage.

At 185centimetres, Viliamu is 12cm shorter than Burman.

‘‘I’ve really pushed myself to be really consistent every game,’’ Viliamu said. ‘‘I’m like the shortest lock on the field in every game I’ve played.’’

Lake Macquarie coach Ryan Dunnett said it was difficult to compare Burman and Viliamu, but he could not be happier with his new recruit.

‘‘They’re very different players,’’ Dunnett said. ‘‘Obviously, Burman was a lineout expert, while Kenny is a lot more powerful and tougher at the breakdown, so he’s been a surprise package for us.

‘‘So far, he’s been outstanding for us. He’s picked up the most valuable points of any player at the club, so he’s been very good.’’

The quietly spoken Viliamu has also enjoyed working under Dunnett, a fellow Kiwi.

‘‘It’s been great playing under Ryan, with him bringing his Kiwi rugby feel,’’ he said.

STANDOUT: Lake Macquarie’s Kenny Viliamu playing against Wanderers last weekend. Picture: Jonathan Carroll