Despite his limited pro rugby experience, Suliasi Vunivalu says playing in four NRL grand finals with Melbourne means he can handle the pressure of a Wallabies debut in the England Test series next month. The 26-year-old winger is finally injury-free and eager to get his international career started ahead of next year’s Rugby World Cup in France.
With Marika Koroibete a Wallabies Test certainty, Vunivalu’s selection would see the Fiji-born duo reunited as a wing pair for the first time since the 2016 NRL grand final which the Storm lost to Cronulla. Koroibete then switched to rugby union with Vunivalu following him at the end of 2020.
Australia have not beaten England in their last eight attempts but Vunivalu says he’s ready for the challenge if he gets the nod from Wallabies coach Dave Rennie with the first Test in Perth on 2 July.
“100% – I’ll back myself every time,” Vunivalu said on Tuesday from the Wallabies camp, after announcing he had signed on until after the World Cup. “If he [Rennie] has that belief in me and wants to throw me in there I will back myself to play.”
Vunivalu’s code switch has been hampered by hamstring troubles which have limited him to 15 Super Rugby games over two years. He says he has unfinished business, which is why he rejected a lucrative return to the NRL.
“There was talks about me going back to the NRL but I wanted to stay as I haven’t really done anything in union,” Vunivalu said. “I want to prove myself and try to make my goal of going to the World Cup.”
He believes the injuries are behind him, crediting former Storm high performance director Dean Benton, who holds the same role with the Wallabies. The pair spent a year together at Melbourne in 2016, before Benton joined Eddie Jones for a two-year stint with the the England rugby team.
Benton had previously worked with the Australian side in the build-up to the 2015 World Cup, where they made the final. Vunivalu admitted he hit a mental low due to his injury battles, but he now felt back to his best.
“When I did my second hamstring, I really struggled,” he said. “This year it’s all different … Dean and them have been helping me throughout and that shows, playing six or seven games straight. I worked with him after my second surgery for three months and it’s been awesome and I’ve never felt so good with my hamstring before.”
Vunivalu said he had leaned on Koroibete, among the world’s best wingers, since his code switch. He said the Wallabies coaches wanted to see him improve his work-rate off the ball, something Koroibete is renowned for.
“Since my first time in [camp], he’s been the player that I go to and ask tips,” Vunivalu said. “His work ethic on the field speaks for itself.”