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Eels winger Maika Sivo.

"Awful", but extremely grateful. Even when he's bringing up the rear during a Parramatta training drill, Michael Jennings can see it in Maika Sivo.

The Fijian flyer whose feet are more comfortable on island sand than trudging up and down the Eels' Old Salesyard training digs, finishes another wretched fitness session and starts talking about sending boots home to his family.

At 186 centimetres at 105 kilos, Sivo's not exactly built for another "Malcolm".

It's the gruelling sprint endurance drill employed at plenty of NRL clubs including Parramatta, where a 10m dart is followed by players throwing themselves to the turf to simulate a ruck encounter, backed up by another, and another, making for one single Malcolm.

"Please, no more Malcolm runs," Sivo laughs when quizzed on Brad Arthur's infamous conditioning sessions.

"He is awful, just dreadful at fitness," Jennings grins.

"But Semi [Radradra] was the same. Couldn't run a long distance but when it comes to the field and game time, he's a freak. He's pretty much the same.

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"That fitness isn't there but the natural ability is. He's working hard of course.

"He's just a big boy. He's trying hard and he's a lot better than when he first started. But fitness is not his speciality by any means. That natural ability, that's his speciality".

Sivo isn't a fan of the Radradra comparisons, pointing out the ex-Eels fan favourite achieved so much in his relatively short time in rugby league.

A professional environment is new to him ... to pick it up the way he has is unbelievable

Michael Jennings on Maika Sivo

He has just one NRL game to his name, and is already under pressure from George Jennings as he bids to return from a knee injury.

But Sivo's first grade debut was still watched in person by more than a dozen members of his "Gundagai family", led by Don and Kathy Tuckwell, the couple who first brought Sivo to rural NSW and rugby league four years ago.

Another 500 or so proud family and friends were along for the ride back in Momi, Sivo's tiny Fijian village where fitness used to consist of "playing footy, maybe a run on the beach".

Before every game, through every Malcolm run, that same village is always on his mind.

"I just want to help out my mum and dad," Sivo says.

"Growing up they did so much for me and I just want to pay them back. I've already built a house for them in Momi and they love it. I think they were watching the first game on the satellite [TV].

"Mom is at home and Dad works in a hotel. He's the store manager there. When I told them I was going to play, everyone got emotional and it reminds me to keep going when things are tough".

Parramatta winger Maika Sivo.
Parramatta winger Maika Sivo. ©Robb Cox/NRL Photos

A rare opportunity thanks to the Tuckwells and the Gundagai community got him going.

Development through the Panthers and Eels ranks pushed him further still, while his "Fijian family" at Bonnyrigg in western Sydney add a touch of home.

So too does sleeping on the floor. Because "I was sleeping in the bed on Monday, Tuesday and I had a sore back. By Wednesday I was back on the floor and my back was better".

Sivo's returns during cardio improved throughout the pre-season, Arthur handing him a round one debut as a fitting reward.

Jennings and his teammates see the effort. And above all else, the gratitude.

"You have to remember he hasn't grown up playing rugby league, training for rugby league," Jennings says.

"Being in a professional environment is all new to him - so for someone to just pick it up the way he has is unbelievable.

"He comes to training grateful, you can see it. He's happy to be here in Australia, doing something that he loves and providing for his family.

"He's always talking about his family, talking about sending boots home. I think he wants to bring his family across.

"Maika's grateful, from what he's come from - to have nothing and be able to crack NRL, you can just tell he's grateful".

Acknowledgement of Country

Parramatta Eels 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.

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