Revealed: Wallabies trio set to return in massive boost to Reds as Vunivalu’s chance to impress arrives


Suliasi Vunivalu’s “got it”, according to Eddie Jones. Now, Australian rugby fans will get another chance to see whether they’re seeing the same thing as the new Wallabies coach.

After being given less than three minutes off the bench by Dave Rennie in his sole appearance for the Wallabies and subsequently cast aside last year, Vunivalu has the chance to make a late run for the World Cup.

Left out of Rennie’s 44-man training squad in January, his physical presence out wide, explosive pace and ability in the air, caught Jones’ eye after a cameo against the Waratahs in Narrabri.

“Oh, he’s got it, mate,” Jones told AAP of Vunivalu last week.

“I’ve seen him play enough NRL at the highest level to know.

“It sometimes takes players a little longer to find their feet (in rugby), but I saw him (at a trial game) in Narrabri for 20 minutes and was really impressed with his defence and communication.

“That is the beauty of it; there’s opportunity there.

“Historical form counts, but if you’re playing well and at the top of your form it’s hard not to pick you so (he’s got to) … get back on the field and get the ball in his hands.”

Suliasi Vunivalu

Suliasi Vunivalu is set to return for the Reds against the Force. Photo: Joe Allison/Getty Images

The Roar can reveal that Vunivalu is expected to be one of three headline inclusions for the Reds this weekend for their clash against the Force on Sunday afternoon.

After missing last week’s heavy season-opening loss to the Hurricanes with an ankle injury, the two-time premiership winner with the Melbourne Storm is expected to make his return to the starting side.

A hand injury to Isaac Henry is set to see Hunter Paisami move closer to the action at inside centre, allowing Josh Flook to join the Wallaby in the midfield and opening up space for Vunivalu on the wing.

Vunivalu has seen precious time on the field since making his high profile code switch in 2020 and had to take a six-figure haircut to stay in Australian rugby for the chance to appear at this year’s World Cup. He will likely take confidence in the fact his selection coincides by the fact this weekend’s Super Round will be held at AAMI Park – the same venue he forged his name.

He won’t be the only big name player to return either, with James O’Connor and Jock Campbell set to return via the bench.

Their returns will ensure the Reds have some experience and class to bring off the bench, having been overpowered in the second half by the Hurricanes after back to back yellow cards left the Reds down on numbers in the sapping Townsville heat.

Despite O’Connor’s return, Tom Lynagh is likely to keep the No.10 jersey in a boost to his confidence.

James O'Connor

James O’Connor is set to return via the bench for the Reds in a boost to their chances of beating the Force. Photo: Paul Kane/Getty Images

While the Reds will recognise the need to shore up their defence and discipline, they will be relieved to know they won’t come up against someone with the same physical threat as Asafo Aumua posed.

The rising Hurricanes hooker came off the bench to destroy the Reds in what proved to be a second half blood bath for the Reds.

After Jones’ pre-season warning that players “select and de-select themselves”, particularly against New Zealand opposition, the Reds will be eager to find some momentum and confidence early in the season.

That stands for Vunivalu too, who cast aside when the former NRL flyer failed to let loose on the training paddock after a series of hamstring injuries.

Wallabies coach Eddie Jones says Suliasi Vunivalu has “got it”. Photo: Matt King/Getty Images

Rennie valued training form and for Vunivalu, whose training load was vastly different at the Storm, that spelled bad news.

Jones, who lured NRL stars Wendell Sailor, Mat Rogers and Lote Tuqiri over to the XV-player game ahead of the 2019 World Cup, however isn’t concerned by Vunivalu’s history.

“You’ve got to find out what’s right for each player,” Jones said.

“At the Storm, if he was allowed to train like (they knew) that, he’d front up and perform.

“When you’re new into a team, that’s harder because people don’t know you.

“But he’ll work it out.”

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