Latest Wallaby defector clears path for NRL star
Melbourne Storm flyer Suliasi Vunivalu has reaffirmed his code switch to the Queensland Reds where the wing spot vacated by Biarritz-bound Henry Speight will be the perfect fit.
Speight, 32, on Sunday announced his departure for the French club with the positive farewell wishes of the Queensland Rugby Union and Rugby Australia.
It ends a 10-season commitment to Super Rugby which earned Australian rugby's fastest afro cult status for the ACT Brumbies and 49 tries in all for his two clubs.
Super Rugby returns! Watch every game of Super Rugby Aotearoa and Super Rugby AU Live & On-Demand on Kayo. New to Kayo? Get your 14-day free trial & start streaming instantly >
"Henry has given 10 strong years to the game in Australia and this is getting a reward the right way, " RA director of rugby Scott Johnson said.
Incoming Wallabies coach Dave Rennie recently spoke to Vunivalu, 24, to show how eager the code was to see him in action after his final NRL season with the Storm.
"Dave just had a chat and Suliasi said he was looking forward to the move so everything is on track there with an exciting player," Johnson said.
Vunivalu has signed on for two years at the Reds in 2021-22 and will add explosive finishing.
Speight's stint at the Reds was brief at just seven games but he made a strong impression.
The first of his three tries for the Reds against his former Brumbies club in Canberra also completed the first heady "Grand Slam" of tries against every Super Rugby club.
Incredible ... 18 tries against 18 teams.
The 19-Test Wallaby still had a year still to run on his Reds' deal but talked through the opportunity to play in France and was granted an early release.
"We are pleased he and his family will get the opportunity to spend the next three years with a club of great history in France after his service in Australia," QRU chief executive David Hanham said.
There was more to his move to Brisbane with partner Louise than just rugby.
It brought new born son Josefa closer to family.
"My son met his 89-year-old grandfather (Sam) for the first time in Brisbane and having four generations of Speights in the one living room was pretty special," Speight said.
It's uncertain whether Speight will play any matches in the domestic Super Rugby competition that starts on July 3 against the NSW Waratahs at Suncorp Stadium.
"My family and I are unbelievably grateful that, from the Board down, our request was dealt with respect and that the organisation was ultimately sympathetic to the opportunity that lies in front of us in France," Speight said.
"There's a genuine care for the person and the professional here.
"I know that this place has an exciting future."
Speight's exit is a sympathetic "long service" situation and doesn't compare to dismay still felt because of the departures of young guns Izack Rodda, Isaac Lucas and Harry Hockings.
"We'll miss Henry but we're happy to send him along his way. He is a true gentleman and a family man who brought plenty of experience and knowledge," Reds coach Brad Thorn said.
"A lot of the guys here looked-up to him for advice both on-and-off the field.
"When one door closes, another one opens. It's awesome we have another quality player in Suliasi Vunivalu set to join our program.
"It'll be exciting to see him battle fellow Fijian Filipo Daugunu and others within our squad for those wing spots next year."
Originally published as Latest Wallaby defector clears path for NRL star