Code-swap coup: Reds, Rugby Australia sign Storm star Suliasi Vunivalu on two-year deal

Super Rugby
by Iain Payten

Melbourne Storm winger Suliasi Vunivalu has been signed by Queensland and Rugby Australia in a code-swap coup that could re-unite the flyer with former teammate Marika Koroibete in the Wallabies in 2021.

The 24-year-old, who was rated by Josh Addo-Carr as "the best winger in the NRL" earlier this year, has signed a two-year contract with the Reds and Rugby Australia in a deal that starts in 2021.

Media reports have previously speculated the Storm may release Vunivalu in 2020 to free up salary cap space but the Storm issued a release on Tuesday saying he would see out the remainder of his contract.

The 100kg Fijian wing will be returning to rugby after a six-year stint in rugby league, where he starred for the Melbourne Storm, topped the competition’s try-scoring tally in 2016 and 2017 and won an NRL Premiership in 2017.

Vunivalu played rugby union prior to his league switch, however, having moved to New Zealand from Fiji when he was 16 to play for Auckland’s Kentigern College. The speedster also had a stint in the Auckland academy before moving to Melbourne to play for the Storm under 20s.

Vunivalu has a total of 72 tries in 94 appearances at the club and played in the last three NRL Grand Finals, including the 2016 decider with Koroibete.

Vunivalu will also be eligible to play for the Wallabies in 2021.

Having lived in Australia since 2014, the winger will qualify even under the new five-year residency rule of World Rugby that comes into effect at the end of 2020.

“As a group we look forward to welcoming Suliasi Vunivalu back to rugby and to Queensland in 2021,” Reds coach Brad Thorn said in a release.

“Suliasi grew up playing Rugby in New Zealand before becoming one of the NRL’s most exciting players.

“He’s an impressive talent and has an awesome ability to find the try-line. He brings good experience too with almost 100 NRL games for Melbourne and 12 rugby league Tests for Fiji. Suliasi will be a great addition to our program.

Rugby Australia Director of Rugby, Scott Johnson said in a release: “This is a very good signing for Australian Rugby and the Reds.

“Suliasi was a standout schoolboy Rugby player, he is an elite finisher with a lot of big game experience for a young man and will have an immediate impact for the Reds in 2021 and put himself right in the frame for higher honours.“He is one player we have been looking at very closely this year with the skillset we are looking for in the outside backs. He has been working in a great environment at the Storm and has chosen a future in Rugby, so it is a great result for the game.”

Vunivalu told the Melbourne Storm website he didn't want to play for another NRL club, and that rugby had always been an option for him to return to.

"The Storm has been wonderful to me, and I’m continuing to make great memories here," he said.

"However, the offer from rugby union was too good for me to refuse, especially considering I have a young family who I want to do the best for.

"I was a rugby union player before switching to league and always thought going back to rugby was an option for my career and I never wanted to play for another NRL club.

"I’d hate to have to go up against Storm and my mates.

"Now this decision is public, I’m concentrating 100% on my final year in Melbourne and looking forward to doing the best I can for the boys, the coaches and all our members and fans.

"I won’t be making any further comments on rugby until the NRL season is done."

Suliasi Vunivalu

Position: Wing

Height: 192cm

Weight: 99kg

Born: 27/11/1995

Place of birth: Suva, Fiji

School: St Kentigern College, Auckland (NZ)

Representative Honours (Rugby League): Melbourne Storm (2016-2019), Fiji Bati (2017-2019)