'It's easy to see it on TV': Cross-code star eyes Wallabies chance
Suliasi Vunivalu’s “full-tilt” return to the Wallabies squad will come with a caveat as the flying winger seeks to end his run of hamstring injuries since switching codes.
He’s also opened up on the emotional toll of a dragged-out court case and extended time away from his partner and two young boys as he hunts a maiden test cap as early as next Sunday.
Three separate setbacks have contributed to the NRL convert playing just eight of a possible 14 Super Rugby games for the Queensland Reds, while he has also been sidelined for all five Wallabies tests this year.
Eight weeks on from surgery to repair his hamstring tendon, Vunivalu and James O’Connor (groin) will join the national squad ahead of the Rugby Championship on Sunday, once the team arrives in Queensland after the third Bledisloe test in Perth.
The Fijian-born talent did have hamstring issues in 2018 and missed the 2019 NRL preliminary final with the same complaint.
A broken jaw kept him to just 17 games in his final season at the Storm in 2020 but otherwise managed at least 21 appearances in his four previous seasons with the NRL powerhouse that yielded two premierships and 86 tries in 111 games.
“I had to go and speak to the trainer about my training load, coming back from injury some stuff I don’t normally do in league was put on me,” the 25-year-old said.
“I just asked them to tone it down a little bit because coming back from a hamstring, doing sprint running Monday, Tuesday and Thursday wasn’t good and they noticed it as well.
“Some players are different and need to be looked after differently and we’ve learnt from that.”
Injuries have come with a court case hanging over Vunivalu’s head, a charge of common assault after an incident with a bouncer on January 30 eventually withdrawn in August.
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He had arrived in Brisbane after more than six months away from his partner and two young boys while in the NRL’s Covid-19 bubble with the Storm last year.
The trio are still in Melbourne, where Vunivalu has only been allowed fleeting visits due to border closures.
“I’m so happy that’s all done, it has always been in the back of my head throughout the season and could have been resolved quicker,” Vunivalu said. “[Time away from family has been] very taxing.
“You want to see them, but you have to put food on the table and 100 per cent I’ve got to do it.
“This is the game I love and I see how I can look after them, [compared to] my upbringing in Fiji, the struggles that I went through when my mum and dad had no jobs.
“I’m able to provide really well for my kids, so as long as they’re well looked after I’m happy.”
Vunivalu will be pushing it to play against South Africa on the Gold Coast next Sunday, but is more likely to press for a debut against the Springboks the following weekend in Brisbane.
“I’ll be at full tilt next week, I’ll be ready,” Vunivalu said.
“Watching the games on TV I was like far out, there’s good opportunities on the wing to get some cross kicks one-on-one and also to swing around the back.
“But it’s easy to see it on TV and say it but another to play it.”
– Murray Wenzel
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