EXCLUSIVE: After starting the 2017 NRL season in red-hot form, Melbourne winger Suliasi Vunivalu has hinted at a desire to represent the Kiwis at the end-of-year Rugby League World Cup.
The 192cm winger, who has scored a try in each of his two games this season and is averaging 193 metres gained, played rugby union for St Kentigern College in Auckland for two years before heading to Melbourne to play league in the National Youth Competition.
As a result, he is eligible for New Zealand and Australia, in addition to his country of birth, Fiji.
“I haven’t made any decision yet, so I will focus on the club and we will see later on,” Vunivalu told Commentary Box Sports.
“Hopefully the Kiwis, but like I said if either of them comes forward I will put my hands up. At the moment I am focussing on the Melbourne Storm and hopefully one will come knocking.
“No-one has rung yet…hopefully I have three options, but I am doing the little things and not looking too far ahead.”
The fact Vunivalu is ineligible to play State of Origin – a carrot that has swayed the likes of Karmichael Hunt and James Tamou towards the Kangaroos in the past – plays in favour of New Zealand.
Another ace up the Kiwis’ sleeve is that they would likely have no problem fast-tracking the 21-year-old into their Anzac Test line-up in May, whereas Mal Meninga will almost certainly stick solid with Blake Ferguson and Valentine Holmes on the Australian flanks.
— Melbourne Storm (@storm) March 6, 2017
Vunivalu made a triumphant return to Auckland last Friday night, scoring one of Melbourne’s four tries and powering through for 202 metres in torrid conditions as the Storm beat the Warriors 26-10.
There were some familiar faces on the other side of the field in Solomone Kata, who Vunivalu played against in secondary school union, and Albert Vete, who captained Vunivalu’s school to the national title the year before the Fijian flyer arrived in New Zealand.
“It was good to be back, it had been two years since I was in Auckland for the NRL Nines, it all seems familiar and it was nice to see a few mates,” Vunivalu said.
“[I knew] Albie Vete, who left the year I arrived at the school, but I played against Solomone Kata, he was a bulldozer back then.
“He is still the same, a stocky bloke who is hard to tackle, he is going well.”
The powerhouse looks to have side-stepped the dreaded ‘second-year syndrome’ after bursting onto the NRL scene with 23 tries in 21 games and a grand final appearance for the Storm in 2016.
Vunivalu’s Storm side have started the 2017 season two from two, and possess easily the best defence across the opening fortnight of the competition, leaking just eight points on average.
On the other side of the ball they have averaged 19 scored and currently sit second on the ladder behind the Parramatta Eels on differential.