Suliasi Vunivalu decision leaves Storm at a loss

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Ray Burton
Ray writes mostly in-depth analytical pieces covering a range of sports from a more statistical perspective drawing his inspiration from the fanalytics movement. Ray writes on the NFL, Premier League, MLB, NHL, NBA, and NRL.

Fijian winger and NRL breakout star Suliasi Vunivalu is switching codes at the end of the 2020 season to make huge money with the Queensland Reds. The move, prompted by Rugby Australia’s recruit of the flying Fijian leaves a hole in the Storm lineup, and in the reputation of both codes of Australian rugby.

When he makes the move in 2021, Vunivalu will also be changing the country he represents, moving from his native Fiji, to play for the Wallabies. One of the key elements of the switch was persuading Vunivalu to switch to the Australian gold shirt, and it’s also one of the more contentious parts.

Money makes the world go around

Vunivalu’s $1.8 million two year contract is a hefty price for a player limited experience. In NRL terms it would put him just south of Jason Taumololo in the highest-paid players. While he would’ve got a significant bump in salary if he had re-upped with the Storm, he likely wouldn’t have approached the $900,000 per year bracket.

For a player raised in the tiny Fijian village of Bagasau, the chance to earn such a payday is impossible to turn down, and no one can really question his decision from that angle. However, the decision to change to the Wallabies is a little strange.

“There are heaps of kids back home and in Australia who are Fijian that want to play for Fiji Bati now. That is why I always want to put on this white and black jumper and represent my family back home whenever I get the opportunity.”

Suliasi Vunivalu on playing for Fiji

As a passionate Fijian, and role model in his native country, this move will leave a sour taste in the mouths of many. But at the same time, he is showing people what can be achieved. That the limits many people set on them are not real limits.

A huge loss to NRL

2019 was a breakout season for Suliasi Vunivalu with 11 tries in 24 games, tieing him for 16th in the league, and his 82 tackle breaks good for 26th. On the opposite wing from Josh Addo-Carr, 16 tries and 95 tackle breaks, he formed a deadly partnership and helped Melbourne secure the minor premiership.

His loss will probably never be fully known, although he does have 24 more games in which to show just how much the league will be losing. The reemergance of Sandor Earl, and another 12 months to plan for his replacement will likely limit the impact on the Storm in the long term.

However, they will be left very disappointed that another of their young stars is leaving so early in his journey. At just 24-years-old, Vunivalu still hadn’t reached anywhere near his potential.

That potential will now only be seen in rugby union, for the Queensland Reds, and the Australian Wallabies.

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