Super Rugby: James O’Connor’s blunt message for star Reds recruit Suliasi Vunivalu
15 January, 2021, 2:23 pm
When Suliasi Vunivalu met James O’Connor for the first time, the star playmaker had a simple message for the flying Fijian.
“He’s just been telling me to stay on my hip, so he can feed the big winger on the inside,” Vunivalu said.
Queensland Reds and Wallabies fans can expect to see plenty of the dangerous duo this year, as Vunivalu has already spent time in the national team set-up under the watchful eye of Dave Rennie.
The former Melbourne Storm star completed his first day of training at Ballymore on Thursday, with the Super Rugby season just one month away.
For Vunivalu, returning to rugby after featuring in Melbourne’s 2017 and 2020 NRL premierships was a matter of attending to “unfinished business”.
“I’ve done my time in rugby league and I’ve achieved what I wanted to achieve. It’s something different, a new challenge and I’m looking forward to it,” he said.
When Vunivalu speaks about unfinished business, he’s referring to childhood dreams ignited by the England team which won the 2003 Rugby World Cup on Australian soil.
Despite being born and raised in Fiji before moving to New Zealand as a 16-year-old, it was fellow cross-code star Jason Robinson who Vunivalu wanted to emulate as a child.
Like Robinson, Vunivalu wants to dominate on the international stage. But before he can worry about Wallabies duties, he has a pre-season under Reds coach Brad Thorn to work through.
That shouldn’t be too much of a mountain to climb, given Storm coach Craig Bellamy is notorious for running the hardest pre-seasons in the NRL.
“Storm’s [pre-seasons] are really tough but it’s a different sport. We focus more on ruck speed and all of that (at the Reds),” Vunivalu said. “You have stop-start. League is pretty much full on. Training wise, it’s hard but it’s a different sport.”
Vunivalu spent about one month with the Wallabies squad as they completed their Tri Nations campaign at the end of last year.
The 25-year-old was never a hope of making his test debut at the end of last year. He was brought in simply to begin the process of transitioning from rugby league back to rugby – a sport he dominated as a star schoolboy for famous New Zealand nursery St Kentigern’s College.
The best player in recent years to have made the transition from rugby league winger to rugby winger is a fellow Fijian who followed the same path from the Storm to the national side – Marika Koroibete.
“That’s what I did when I went into Wallabies camp – I was just watching how he positioned himself,” Vunivalu said. “He’s everywhere around the field. He’s got a good engine. I need to work on mine.
“That was really good. My focus going into that camp was just trying to get rugby back into me so when I started here at the Reds, I knew a couple of things rather than coming here and starting all over again.
“That was helpful for me and I got a big focus on the work ons I need to improve.”