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Taniela Tupou benched as Suliasi Vunivalu named for long-awaited Reds return

By AAP
(Photo by Albert Perez/Getty Images)

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Queensland Reds halfback Tate McDermott has promised to shower Suliasi Vunivalu with high-balls in his Super Rugby Pacific injury comeback in Melbourne.

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The flying winger’s clash on Friday against the Rebels will mark his first appearance at AAMI Park since leaving the NRL’s Storm in 2020.

Touted as a potential Wallabies weapon on the wing, his code switch has been hampered by hamstring injuries that have seen him on ice for the Reds’ 6-1 start to the season.

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Angus Scott-Young (knee) will also return from a six-week lay-off for the clash, which marks the last Australian-based round before trans-Tasman competition begins in Melbourne’s Super Round last week.

Halfback McDermott couldn’t hide his excitement for Vunivalu, who will have fellow Fijian-born flyer Filipo Daugunu on the other flank and exciting prospect Jordan Petaia at fullback.

“How good, back in Melbourne too,” he said.

“We were absolutely gutted for him, but I spent a bit of time with him in rehab, he’s awesome to be around, it’s just his aura.

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“Myself and JOC (No 10 James O’Connor) are looking forward to putting a couple of kicks up for him and seeing what he can do in the air – it’s a really exciting team this weekend.”

Vunivalu is off-contract beyond this season and weighing up his future with the lure of the 2023 World Cup front of mind.

McDermott hopes he sticks around.

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“[He would have been] incredibly frustrated but he’s the kind of guy that doesn’t show it,” McDermott said of Vunivalu’s run of injuries.

“He’s been awesome for this team, the boys love having him around.”

Coach Brad Thorn will deploy star prop Taniela Tupou from the bench against the Rebels (2-5).

Hooker Richie Asiata, prop Zane Nonggorr and flanker Connor Vest will make their Queensland and Super Rugby starting debuts, with 20-year-old lock Lopeti Faifua potentially making his debut off the bench.

– Murray Wenzel

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