Vunivalu wants to repay rugby’s faith despite Dolphins circling for NRL return

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Suliasi Vunivalu has rejected claims he is heading back to the NRL by saying he wants to re-sign with Rugby Australia after an injury-riddled start to his time with the Reds.

Hamstring problems have dogged Vunivalu since he made the switch at the end of 2020 and is due to make his Super Rugby return in a fortnight for the Reds.

Off contract at the end of the year, the Dolphins NRL expansion side is keen to lure the Fijian-born 26-year-old winger back to league but Vunivalu told rugby.com.au that he was committed for the long haul.

“I’d like to stay in rugby but I’m not going to make any decision until I’m back on the field and have played three or four games,” Vunivalu said.

“I ran at full pace last week. I’m back in the main training group with contact and I’ll be fit to play after the Brumbies game on Saturday.

“I had a lot of scans on the hamstring before the doctors gave me the thumbs up in January to run fast again. It’s exciting.

“I never want to be talking about my hamstring again. Scoring tries, catching kicks … that’s my job.”

The Reds have a week off in the schedule following Saturday night’s top-of-the-table clash with the Brumbies at Suncorp Stadium so Vunivalu’s first appearance for 2022 is set to be the April 15 clash with the Rebels in Melbourne.

Vunivalu was a try-scoring machine for the Storm, touching down 86 times in just 111 games over a five-year stretch which included the 2017 and 2020 grand final wins.

When he was growing up in Fiji, he played outside centre and on the wing before earning a scholarship to go to Saint Kentigern College in Auckland as a 16-year-old.

He progressed to the Blues’ academy and was viewed as a Super Rugby player of the future but the Melbourne NRL talent scouts convinced him to make the leap across the Tasman to give league a try.

However, his time at the Reds has been underwhelming. He was only able to make seven appearances last year and his time with the Wallabies training camp was cut short when his hamstring problems flared again so he’s still yet to earn a green and gold Test jersey.

After undergoing surgery, he is confident of staying on the field and earning a new deal with the Reds.

Vunivalu is likely to have to take a pay cut whether he stays in rugby or links with the Dolphins after his value has dropped dramatically due to his frequent unavailability.

The Reds welcome back second-rower Lukhan Salakaia-Loto from an ankle injury for the Brumbies blockbuster, while Liam Wright and Filipo Daugunu will start in place of the injured Seru Uru and Jock Campbell.

Brumbies five-eighth Noah Lolesio (ankle) is out injured and won’t get the chance to push his case for a Wallabies cap later this year against incumbent James O’Connor, while Test halfback Nic White will come off the bench a week after the birth of his third child.

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