Rugby continues infatuation with NRL wingers
The strikepower of grounded weapon Israel Folau has been replaced in the future plans of the Wallabies by a swoop for explosive Melbourne Storm finisher Suliasi Vunivalu.
Vunivalu has signed a two-year deal with the Queensland Reds and Rugby Australia to bring his exhilarating wing play to Super Rugby in 2021-22.
The underlying script is RA's excitement in signing a new Fijian flyer with the potential to be at his peak at 27 for the 2023 Rugby World Cup in France.
Rugby Australia is believed to have thrown a massive $1.8 million, two-year deal at Vunivalu which includes the capacity to earn $10,000 per Test in match fees. The Storm were never in a position to go close to matching it.
Vunivalu is already on record as saying he is committed to playing the final season of his NRL deal with the Storm next season.
The Storm have freed up salary cap space by releasing halfback Brodie Croft, the sharp new signing for the Brisbane Broncos, and there is still the possibility for them to do the same with Vunivalu which would accelerate his jump to rugby to 2020.
The measure of Vunivalu's potency as a pacy, athletic finisher is best reflected in numbers not words.
The 2017 premiership-winner has scored 72 tries in 94 NRL games for the Storm, a phenomenal strike rate just a tick behind Folau's career rate (73 from 91 games) before his switch to rugby in 2013.
In a statement released by Melbourne Storm, Vunivalu revealed his decision to leave the NRL was a difficult one.
"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 per cent 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.
It continues rugby's infatuation with the try-scoring DNA of NRL wingers since 2001 with Wendell Sailor, Lote Tuqiri, Cooper Vuna, Israel Folau and Marika Koroibete all playing for the Wallabies with varying degrees of success.
It's a big signing for the Reds with the potential for the 2021 backline to include young gun Jordan Petaia, James O'Connor and Wallaby-in-waiting Tate McDermott.
Folau heads back to the Federal Court in Melbourne on Thursday for the latest negotiations with RA to see if there is a way to avoid a trial over his sacking for which he is seeking an outlandish $14 million in compensation and an apology.
The Suva-born Vunivalu was a schoolboy rugby talent in New Zealand when he moved to Auckland at 16 and so impressed he made the Auckland Blues development squad.
League's astute poaching hooked him for the Storm's Under-20s squad which became his Queensland connection through stints at two feeder clubs: Sunshine Coast Falcons (2015) and Brisbane-based Easts (2016).
"As a group we look forward to welcoming Suliasi Vunivalu back to rugby and to Queensland as a great addition in 2021," Reds coach Brad Thorn said.
"Suliasi grew up playing rugby in NZ before becoming one of the NRL's most exciting players with 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."
Vunivalu won the Dally M Top Try-scorer award in 2016-17 with 23 crossings in each season.
Koroibete, another signing from the Storm, had a breakout year and was the Wallabies' best in the flawed World Cup campaign.
It took 18 months for Koroibete to fully come to grips with rugby but when he did he was dynamic. Vunivalu's rugby background suggests a far quicker transition.