Sivo's journey from Gundagai to 20 tries

Maika Sivo can still recall the first meal he had after arriving on Australian shores in 2015.

It was nothing like he'd had before.

A skinny 93-kilo rugby union prodigy had joined his mates Joe, Peter and Eddy in arriving at Sydney Airport.

Their destination? Gundagai, NSW, almost four hours from the international airport and a time Sivo can now reflect upon as a life-changing period in his life.

"The trip was seven hours for us, we stopped three times," Sivo tells NRL.com.

"In Fiji, the longest you drive is about three hours so it was a long drive. We had Hungry Jack's first, then Red Rooster.

"They have that sort of food in Fiji but it was expensive and we didn't usually go there being in the village. Sometimes you went to town and bought chicken but we mainly ate fish and taro."

On arrival in Gundagai, Sivo and his mates would bunker down with Don and Kathy Tuckwell.

Soon they'd meet Marty Hay, the Gundagai club secretary.

"He struggled with English when he was here, he was almost hopeless," Hay told NRL.com.

"That's one thing I've been impressed with watching from afar is how much he's improved. He speaks really well now.

"And his build, he was much more slimline but extremely fast. Our halves would chip the ball and he'd come through like superman.

"Once Parramatta work that out it will be another string to the bow."

Sivo would work for Hay in a couple of cash jobs around his farm to help support himself financially.

He'd receive $120 match payment from the club and around $100 for any odd job in the community.

"We had a small farm ... we gave them a day here or there," Hay said.

"One day they were helping on the farm with sheep and the next they were washing cars for the elders.

"We had them mingling with the community. None of the boys had travelled abroad so it was a life experience. They were beautiful people."

As for what Sivo spent his spare cash on?

"I would just save it and send it back to home," Sivo says.

When he arrived at the foot of the Blue Mountains in 2017 it was another life experience hurdle for Sivo to overcome.

"Arriving at Penrith there were thousands of people," Sivo said.

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"Being in Gundagai there were only a few hundred people. It was like my village Momi in Fiji."

Parramatta teammate Waqa Blake reckons Sivo was desperately unlucky not to make his NRL debut during his time at Penrith under Anthony Griffin.

He scored 22 tries in 25 games for the Panthers across two seasons in Canterbury Cup NSW.

Maika Sivo playing for Gundagai.
Maika Sivo playing for Gundagai. ©Les Smith

He even tried his hand playing with St Marys and Mounties before being lured to the blue and gold of Parramatta.

"There were a lot of players standing in his way," Blake said, with the pair spending a pre-season together at Penrith.

"He was also really quiet, stuck to the Fijian or Polynesian boys, where he felt a bit more comfortable.

"That's one thing I've noticed since arriving at the Eels is how much more open he is. He's still very fresh, raw and learning the game but everyone loves him here."

And how could anyone not love what Sivo is bringing to the game?

He has gone from a reserve grade winger on minimum wage to the game's next Fijian superstar.

"I don't even think Maika realises what he's done this year," Hay said.

"He hasn't changed from the moment I met him to now. He's too humble, he giggles his way through everything. I'm not sure he still even knows all of the rules of rugby league, but he's making it happen.

"And it's no fluke, he's still got a lot more to give that we haven't seen."

Sivo returned to Gundagai in July during Parramatta's bye week, an action that made little headlines and fanfare.

But in a town with a population of about 2000 people, they too were shouting his name.