Suliasi Vunivalu will make his starting debut for the Queensland Reds in a selection move that will also see the reunion of Wallabies centres Hunter Paisami and Jordan Petaia.
NRL convert Vunivalu was suspended for the start of the Super Rugby AU season but caught the eye with a late cameo in his professional rugby debut against the Melbourne Rebels in round two.
His efforts there and at training were enough to force changes to a stellar Reds backline, Hamish Stewart the unlucky casualty despite strong showings at No.12 outside five-eighth James O’Connor.
The two-time Melbourne Storm premiership winger will be unleashed in a replay of last year’s domestic decider in Canberra on Saturday, with Jordan Petaia shifting from the wing to outside centre and Wallabies winger Filipo Daugunu on the other flank.
Paisami moves into No.12 to replicate the centre pairing preferred by Wallabies coach Dave Rennie last year, Paisami ironically earning that shot after a Petaia injury opened the door.
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) March 10, 2021
Wallabies Lukhan Salakaia-Loto and Brandon Paenga-Amosa and emerging centre Josh Flook are also back to face the Brumbies, who will be led by Tom Cusack in the absence of suspended skipper Allan Alaalatoa and injured veteran prop James Slipper.
Tom Ross will earn his first start in the forward pack while Archer Holz could make his debut off the bench.
The Melbourne Rebels will play the Western Force without fullback Dane Haylett-Petty who remains out as he recovers from concussion.
Dave Wessels’ men are chasing their first win after back-to-back losses decided by kicks after the siren – against the Reds then the Brumbies – so far this season.
Chasing back-to-back wins following their breakthrough against the NSW Waratahs last Friday, the Force will welcome new signing and former Wallabies lock Sitaleki Timani onto the bench.
Captain Ian Prior hasn’t found a way back into the starting side either, while last-game star Tim Anstee has not been retained.
Instead Fergus Lee-Warner will shift from lock to flanker to accommodate the towering Ryan McCauley for his first start for the Force.
All four teams will wear specially-designed uniforms to coincide with the inaugural First Nations Round.
– Murray Wenzel
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