Maika Sivo of the Eels busts through a tackle by James Tedesco of the Roosters to score a try during the Round 6 NRL match between the Sydney Roosters and the Parramatta Eels at Bankwest Stadium in Sydney, Saturday, June 20, 2020. (AAP Image/Dan Himbrechts) NO ARCHIVING, EDITORIAL USE ONLY
Maika Sivo of the Eels busts through a tackle by James Tedesco of the Roosters to score a try during the Round 6 NRL match between the Sydney Roosters and the Parramatta Eels at Bankwest Stadium in Sydney, Saturday, June 20, 2020. (AAP Image/Dan Himbrechts) NO ARCHIVING, EDITORIAL USE ONLY

How Eels created the NRL’s strongest man

On Tuesday of this week, Brad Arthur was forced to momentarily hold his breath.

Which happens now, they say.

At least once a week, the Parramatta coach suffering an 'Oh, %&*$@' moment as Maika Sivo - that winger billed as rugby league's strongest man - goes and turns an opposed training session into something resembling Bloodsport.

Kayo is your ticket to the 2020 NRL Telstra Premiership. Every game of every round Live & On-Demand with no-ad breaks during play. New to Kayo? Get your 14-day free trial & start streaming instantly >

Maika Sivo deposits James Tedesco on his way to the tryline.
Maika Sivo deposits James Tedesco on his way to the tryline.

 

For a visual, think his job on James Tedesco.

Back a few weeks when, on his way to the tryline, this hulking Fijian didn't so much bump off the Roosters No.1 as take ownership of his soul.

So back to Tuesday of this week.

"There was a situation, yeah," says Brendan Inkster, the Parramatta Head of Athletic Performance.

"Maika was defending and came off his wing, looking to jam in …"

And the result?

"Obviously, we aren't trying to kill each other out there," Inkster continues with a laugh, almost as if to defend whatever happens next. "But Maika, he very nearly cleaned up the opposing centre.

"It definitely had everyone holding their breath."

What a revelation Maika Sivo has been for the Eels.
What a revelation Maika Sivo has been for the Eels.

 

For a start, Sivo didn't know much about the game.

Defensively, full of poor reads, too.

Which isn't how this story used to go.

No, back 18 months, when Sivo first arrived at Parramatta as an unwanted Penrith Panthers reject, Arthur was often holding his breath for far different reasons.

 

 

While even with his carries, now something of a trademark, this Momi product would slow at the defensive line and twist - a throwback to his rugby roots.

All this too, before we get to his fitness.

"And I've seen worse," Inkster says of those early sessions.

"But you'd want to see better."

Maika Sivo biding his time playing for Mounties.
Maika Sivo biding his time playing for Mounties.

So how do we get to today then?

In the space of 33 NRL games, and Sivo now overhauled into the type of rugby league weapon that squats 285kg, flattens Kangaroos and can get 30,000 fans chanting his name in unison.

Elsewhere, leading the competition in linebreaks and sat second for that NRL Tryscorer gong he won as a 2019 rookie.

Overseen by Arthur, the transformation of this Fijian cassava farmer has involved a team including, but not limited to, Inkster, assistant Steve Murphy and Trent Elkin, the new Eels strength and conditioning boss.

Elsewhere, centre Michael Jennings teaches defence while for Blake Ferguson, it's the value of work ethic.

Arthur, too, has sat for hours with Sivo showing tape of the game's best wingers - their positional play, carry technique, even the benefits strong conditioning brings.

All up, a case of 'Making Sivo'.

Like that Tedesco incident in Round 6.

A moment due, in part, to natural Sivo strength, sure.

That, and intent.

It’s been a joint effort to get Maika Sivo to his current standard.
It’s been a joint effort to get Maika Sivo to his current standard.

But still, it's more.

"That movement on Tedesco, we replicate it in the gym," Inkster explains.

"Trent works a lot with Maika on first step acceleration.

"They'll do chord-assisted runs, sled pushes, medicine ball throws, a lot of explosive movements horizontally.

"This year Trent has really focused on lifting for purpose, rather than for numbers."

So what about that NRL record squat of 285kg - when Sivo wanted 300 but ran out of space on the bar?

"Of course, Maika can still lift heavy weight off the floor," the performance head says.

"Could go crazy if we let him.

"But with our strength and conditioning now, (the lifts) are very specific to each player's position."

Elsewhere, Arthur throws a large chunk of credit towards Murphy, that assistant coach who also overhauled another Fijian you may recall - Semi Radradra.

Maika Sivo was a raw talent when he left the Panthers for the Eels.
Maika Sivo was a raw talent when he left the Panthers for the Eels.

Asked about his first impressions of Sivo, Murphy says: "Raw.

"And didn't have much of a motor.

"But he was intelligent. Obviously powerful, too.

"I remember saying to BA soon after we signed him, 'this kid is untapped'."

Still, there was plenty of work to do on the wannabe star who, coming off a shoulder reconstruction, spent his first months finishing most fitness drills at the back.

"Early on we'd tell Maika 'you've got to finish, doesn't matter what it takes, you have to finish'," Inkster says.

"And he's done that.

"Like with most programs there are no great secrets, it all comes down to a player's intent."

Murphy agrees.

"We've given Maika a lot of attention, and he's responded," he says.

"His thirst for knowledge, it sets him apart.

Brad Arthur and his coaches are certainly enjoying the rise of their superstar winger.
Brad Arthur and his coaches are certainly enjoying the rise of their superstar winger.

"He isn't just content with scoring tries.

"He wants to stop them.

"Hates making errors, too.

"It's why Maika deserves most of the credit to where he is now."

Which, of course, means those 'Oh $%#@' moments will continue at training.

"But for us," says Murphy, "the greatest reward is hearing 30,000 people chant his name.

"Listening to that 'Sivo … Sivo … Sivo', it honestly makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up."

Originally published as How Eels created the NRL's strongest man



POSITIVE REBOOT: Artists emboldened by tourism

Premium Content POSITIVE REBOOT: Artists emboldened by tourism

In a year void of other opportunities, this upcoming new event is set to lift...

Border closure’s immediate effect on businesses

Premium Content Border closure’s immediate effect on businesses

The decision to close the Queensland border hit Granite Belt operators instantly.

Queenslanders to be fined $2.7m for not voting

Premium Content Queenslanders to be fined $2.7m for not voting

$2.7 million in fines for Queenslanders who didn’t vote