Reds confident Vunivalu will join QLD as planned, Speight signs in France

Super Rugby
Beth Newman Profile
by Beth Newman

The Queensland Reds are confident that Melbourne Storm winger Suliasi Vunivalu will join the Reds as planned in 2021 while Henry Speight is heading to France .

Vunivalu is set to join the Reds in 2021 but with Rugby Australia yet to sign a broadcast deal for next year and beyond and a level of uncertainty in the sport, there has been reports the Storm are keen to keep him.

The speedster said in recent weeks that he was still keen to join the Reds if his contract could be guaranteed, while Storm coach Craig Bellamy said the club would be happy to keep him if the financial uncertainty around rugby continued.

It is understood that Wallabies coach Dave Rennie has been in contact with Vunivalu around his future in recent days, reaffirming interest on both sides and a sign of the value seen in Vunivalu.

In a statement on Sunday evening coach Brad Thorn reaffirmed the team's confidence that he would be arriving as planned.

The Reds' confidence came with the news that Henry Speight had signed a three-year deal with French side Biarritz, less than a season into his current Queensland contract.

“When one door closes, another one opens," he said.

"It’s awesome we have another quality player in Suliasi Vunivalu set to join our program. It’ll be exciting to see him battle fellow Fijian Filipo Daugunu and others within our squad for those wing spots next year."

Speight was on contract with the Reds until 2021 but is being released from his contract early to take up the offer in France amid the uncertain nature of rugby in Australia.

The winger has played the majority of his career with the Brumbies but joined the Reds ahead of the 2020 season.

This will be his second stint overseas, after a short-term stint with Ulster during his time with the Brumbies.

Australia's professional players are all currently on reduced pay after agreeing to a six-month pay cut in the wake of the sport's shutdown amid the coronavirus pandemic and there has been speculation that more players would head overseas.

QRU CEO David Hanham said they respected Speight's decision.

"Biarritz Olympique have a great Rugby history. They have been respectful during this process and weva are pleased that Henry and his family will get the opportunity to spend the next three years in France,” he said.

Speight thanked Queensland for giving him a chance in recent years.

“I would like to take the opportunity to say a heartfelt and enormous thank you to the entire organisation that is the Queensland Reds," he said.

“Firstly, the opportunity to experience an elite Rugby program which is surrounded and upheld by quality people, who have a genuine care for the person and the professional. This group and the organisation have demonstrated that the Reds are a destination club that will allow players to be their absolute best and the strong culture here is something that I know that I will deeply miss.

“My family and I are unbelievably grateful that, from the Board down, our request was dealt with respect and that the organisation was ultimately sympathetic to the opportunity that lies in front of us. I know that this place has an exciting future and I look forward to being able to say with enormous pride that I pulled on the Queensland Reds jersey, when the organisation achieves the success that it deserves."

Reds coach Brad Thorn paid tribute to Speight for his influence on Australian rugby over his career.

“Henry has been great for our program. He is a true gentleman and a family man who brought plenty of experience and knowledge," he said.

“He was well respected and a lot of the guys here looked-up to him for advice both on-and-off the field.

“We’ll miss Henry, but we’re happy to send him along his way. He’s contributed so much for Australian Rugby for more than a decade. We wish him and his family all the best for their next chapter in France."