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'I'm hopeful he stays': Dave Rennie's plea to off-contract cross-code star

By Alex McLeod
(Photo by Ian Hitchcock/Getty Images)

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Wallabies head coach Dave Rennie is “hopeful” that injury-plagued cross-code star Suliasi Vunivalu remains in rugby union despite rumours of a potential move back to rugby league.

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Vunivalu was absent from Rennie’s 40-man Wallabies squad that was announced on Sunday to congregate for a three-day training camp on the Gold Coast next month.

The 26-year-old wing’s exclusion comes as he awaits his first Super Rugby Pacific appearance of the year for the Reds, something he hasn’t been able to do due to a persistent hamstring injuries.

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Vunivalu’s injury woes have hampered him ever since he joined the Reds from the NRL’s Melbourne Storm last year, having made only seven appearances for the Queensland franchise over the course of two seasons.

While he has looked promising whenever he has taken to the field in union, reports have emerged that league clubs are circling Vunivalu, who is off-contract with Rugby Australia and the Reds this year, about a potential big-money return to the NRL.

Among the clubs reported to be interested in the two-time NRL champion’s services include the Brisbane Broncos, South Sydney Rabbitohs and the newly-inducted Redcliffe Dolphins franchise.

Such reports have led Rennie to voice his eagerness to keep Vunivalu in union, telling media after the announcement of his latest Wallabies squad that he is “certainly keen” for the former Fijian league international to stay put.

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“I’m hopeful he stays. I guess he’s had a history of hamstring injuries, but he’s built up really slowly and I reckon it’s the best he’s felt, his back’s as best it’s felt, for a long time, so we’re confident that he’ll be right,” Rennie said.

“As it is with a lot of players, contract stuff’s ongoing and we’re certainly keen to keep him in our game.”

Rennie was quick to inject Vunivalu into the Wallabies camp as soon as his previous contract with the Storm expired after they won the 2020 NRL title.

The prolific try-scoring wing began training alongside Australia’s Tri-Nations squad just weeks after the Storm beat the Penrith Panthers, where Vunivalu scored his 86th try in his 111th NRL match.

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Since then, though, Vunivalu has hardly been seen on the training and playing fields, although Rennie said that he will join next month’s Wallabies camp for one of the three days that they are together.

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“Suli is not far away, maybe a couple of weeks. We didn’t name him in the squad, but the plan is to bring him in for a day with the camp being in Queensland, just to assess things,” Rennie said.

“To be honest, our [strength and conditioning coaches] and medics have been all over and have had a fair bit to do with Suli around his rehab. He’s feeling really good. He’s running fast, and he needs to get a bit of rugby into him before he plays.”

Rennie’s comments come after Reds general manager Sam Cordingley outlined his desire to ensure that Vunivalu stays at the franchise beyond this season.

“We want him to be here next year definitely,” Cordingley said, as per the Sydney Morning Herald.

“What we have seen of him was pretty exciting, when he was playing, so we are hoping towards the back end of the year he can show us what he can do again and as part of 2023 as well, and at the World Cup.

“He wants to be a Wallaby and I am sure that’s in his thinking. I don’t necessarily think rugby league would be his preference. I have heard the whispers about the Dolphins and whatnot, but I believe his future is in rugby.”

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