The sight of the Queensland Reds’ prized recruit Suliasi Vunivalu prowling on the wing at Ballymore has instantly excited Wallabies playmaker James O’Connor.
The Reds five-eighth has told the NRL title winner to “stay on his hip because he’ll feed the big winger” as the improving side eye some Super Rugby AU silverware of their own this year.
Cross-field bombs to exploit Vunivalu’s aerial prowess will also be a new addition to the Reds arsenal, complementing the power and speed that was already present in an exciting backline last season.
“It was just good to get the rugby ball back in my hands and running with the boys and that (cross-field bombs) may come in later in the week,” Vunivalu said after his first session on Thursday.
“I’m loving the change and looking forward to learning off (coach) Brad Thorn … it’s an easy transition (compared to when he moved over to league) because I grew up playing rugby.”
Fijian-born Vunivalu was a schoolboy rugby standout in New Zealand before he was pinched in 2014 to join Melbourne’s NRL development system.
In five seasons and 111 NRL games the flyer pocketed 86 tries and two premierships, while he also played in a grand final alongside potential Wallabies teammate Marika Koroibete in 2016.
They were reunited ahead of schedule when new Australia coach Dave Rennie invited Vunivalu in to Wallabies camp late last year, just weeks after his starring role in the Storm’s grand final win.
The winger said he paid close attention to Koroibete, who has emerged as one of the Wallabies’ most enterprising players in attack and defence.
“That camp was really helpful, a bit of a head start before I got here to the Reds and I was just watching how he positions himself,” Vunivalu said.
“He’s everywhere around the field; he’s got a good engine and I need to work on mine.”
Wallabies recruit Suliasi Vunivalu has no regrets about his switch from the NRL, saying he is ready to try to emulate the success of his former Melbourne Storm teammate.https://t.co/Pb7mXLK8aj
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) November 14, 2020
Vunivalu’s first game for the Reds could come as soon as February 5 in a Super Rugby AU trial g ame against the NSW Waratahs in Narrabri.
The 2 5-year-old said he’s had no second thoughts despite the Storm’s incredible 2020 campaign, with dual-code star and Reds coach Thorn a big factor in his move.
Vunivalu said back-to-back titles in different codes, as well as a Wallabies cap, were both longer-term goals once he established himself in Queensland’s XV.
“I have unfinished business with rugby; I’ve done my time in league and achieved what I wanted,” he said.
“It’s something different, a new challenge I’m looking forward to.”
– Murray Wenzel
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