Suliasi Vunivalu eager for test debut after ‘dark place’ | Latest rugby news
You’d be hard-pressed to wipe the smile off Suliasi Vunivalu’s face as he talks about what it’s like to be set to make his debut for the Wallabies.
Given the journey he has come, he has every reason to be after being named on the bench for the decisive test against England at the SCG on July 16.
“It’s been a long time coming with some setbacks last year,” Vunivalu told reporters.
“Last year the main goal in rugby was to play for the Reds and put on the gold jersey. I’m grateful to be able to play in this third and decisive game in Sydney.
“I’m completely excited and can’t wait…just looking back with all the setbacks, watching the boys last year and the Spring Tour. I was doing rehab in Melbourne, couldn’t wait to get back and now the day has come.
Vunivalu’s rugby union journey has been a rollercoaster since he was dropped straight into Wallaby’s court after his interception try helped Melbourne Storm win the 2020 NRL Premiership.
Before he had the chance to put on the Reds shirt, he was forced to face the cameras and apologize after he allegedly shoved a security guard, who pulled out of their opener against the Waratahs.
While he showed his talent when given the chance to take the pitch, a pair of hamstring injuries limited him to just 13 appearances in two years.
It left the 26-year-old in a ‘dark place’, wondering if he had made the right choice as talk of big money transfers returning to rugby league began to grow.
“I was in a really dark place,” Vunivalu told reporters.
“This thought came to my mind (about) if I had made the right decision coming… I was playing really good football, then I did my hammy then I did it again, it that’s when I started to think ‘far off, I “I’ve never done that before in (rugby) league, maybe the game is different here” so I just had to readjust my training programs.”
However, Vunivalu managed to find consistency towards the end of the Super Rugby Pacific season, playing seven of the last eight games to push their Wallabies selection claim.
Before he could be called up to the matchday squad, Wallabies coach Dave Rennie wanted to challenge him on and off the practice paddock.
“We know he’s a good athlete, but we want him to be sharp and quick,” Rennie said last week.
“He’s faster than what he showed at Super (Rugby) level. We think he’s ready to fly, he has to convince us in training that he can get the balls out.”
This includes improving his work off the ball, which is what league convert Marika Koroibete became famous for.
“Coming here is that expectation of the different coaches. They expect you to do things that I don’t do at club level and that I know I’m lacking in my game, like positioning, being busy in the game,” he suggests.
“During the four weeks we were on the Sunny Coast, I worked a lot on that. The coaching staff helps you improve in those areas… I’m definitely a better player than a month ago.
“I was at the game last week and we as unchosen players are invited to review the game and send our opinion to the coaching staff, we are not just watching the game… We will have the team this weekend to try to implement that into the game and look for those space or kicking opportunities. Just those little things.”
Starting as a finisher is uncharted territory for Vunivalu, coming off the Reds’ bench twice in 2021.
He showed his impact against the Highlanders, flying high to register a brace in a well and truly defeated Queensland side.
Wallabies coach Dave Rennie joked he was ready to bring the Reds’ flyer in the first minute given their luck with outside back injuries.
With limited back and half-flying coverage, Reece Hodge and Tom Wright are expected to provide cover, paving the way for his injection.
Whatever the situation, Vunivalu is clear on his role when/if he gets the chance to become Wallaby 954.
“I just have to be me. Play football, get involved, communicate well and help other players,” he added.