His head will be spinning and his heart will be pumping but the simple advice for Suliasi Vunivalu from a man who’s been in his shoes is to “just get the ball and run”.
Fresh off a starring hand in Melbourne’s NRL premiership victory last year, Vunivalu will debut for the Queensland Reds in Friday’s Super Rugby AU season opener against the NSW Waratahs.
Dual international Lote Tuqiri remembers his first taste of professional rugby for the NSW Waratahs in 2003, which came after 99 NRL games that included 56 tries and a premiership with Brisbane.
“For sure I was over-thinking things. I remember looking up at the clock and looking at [teammate] Matt Burke wondering where to go,” he said.
“Doing things a hundred miles an hour and he’ll be blowing a bit.
“He’ll be very nervous coming back to a game he’s played before (as a schoolboy in Fiji and New Zealand) but on a big occasion at Suncorp Stadium, somewhere the Storm have had a lot of success, he won’t find it too hard.”
Former Waratahs winger Tuqiri scored 30 tries in a 67-test career for the Wallabies before returning to league.
Similarly built in their prime, he expects the aerial specialist to be just as damaging in rugby as long as he finds enough ball.
“I reckon he’s got it, it’s there for him, he just needs to get his hands on the ball,” Tuqiri said.
“I’m looking forward to seeing him come inside and working off the guys, which he did it a bit in rugby league.
“But I’d just be telling him to get the ball and run.”
Former Queensland and Australian centre Tim Horan saw Vunivalu first-hand in the Reds’ only trial game a fortnight ago.
A Wallabies legend has called on the Reds to play rising star Jordan Petaia in a surprise position ahead of their Super Rugby AU season-opener.https://t.co/chjPWv7Mj3
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) February 16, 2021
“He’s an athlete and Super Rugby needs it,” he said.
“It might take him some time to get the feel of the game, but he’s going to be a star and will adapt quicker than what people think.
“I’d be giving him some strict instructions in certain parts of the field, then once you get past half way and you’re attacking you give him that roving role to come off the fly-half or Jordan Petaia at outside centre to be involved.”
Vunivalu will be part of a Reds squad stacked with emerging Wallabies talent desperate for their first title since 2011 after losing to the Brumbies in last year’s domestic decider.
“This year’s got to be the year for the Reds; Brad Thorn’s fourth year (as coach) … they’ve got to win the final to be a success this year,” he said.
“This is the year; they’ve got to deliver and they know that.”
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