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Storm flyers' rise to the top

Storm flyers' rise to the top
Storm wingers Josh Addo-Carr and Suliasi Vunivalu have struck up an incredible partnership. Credit: Kylie Cox. Copyright: NRL Photos.

They made their NRL debuts together on opposing sides of the field, but on Sunday night Suliasi Vunivalu and Josh Addo-Carr will run out as teammates when the Melbourne Storm look to avenge last year's grand final loss to the Sharks. 

 

‌This week's opponents, North Queensland, will start as sentimental favourites, but the Storm – who claimed their second consecutive minor premiership – will have plenty of support from punters who sense they are due for their first title since 2012. 

Melbourne's dominance has been built on the 'Big Three' of Billy Slater, Cooper Cronk and Cameron Smith, and while most of the hype will focus on the prodigiously-talented triumvirate, it's the two men out wide who loom as genuine game-breakers. 

Vunivalu took Melbourne and the rest of the NRL by storm last year with 23 tries in just 21 games and has matched that tally in 2017 to dispel any fears of the dreaded second-year syndrome. 

Addo-Carr's story is even more remarkable given he was let go by the Wests Tigers at the end of the 2016 and joined the Storm without any guarantees that he would be in their best 17. 

It hasn't taken long for the speedster to make his mark in the Victorian capital, with Addo-Carr crossing for 21 tries this season, including the all-important first four-pointer in the preliminary final win over Brisbane. 

What makes this combination truly special is the fact that both players made their NRL debuts at Leichhardt Oval last year – a game the Storm won in golden point – with both men getting on the score sheet inside the opening 10 minutes. 

"He came into the club this year not knowing [whether he'd have a starting spot] because we have other players in the squad fighting for the position," Vunivalu told reporters at Melbourne's media gathering on Monday. 

"For him, it just shows how hungry he is to just come in and straightaway get the position. He's been playing good footy for us, and me, him and Billy (Slater) at the back have done a really good job throughout the season and we've got to keep that up for one more game."

The pair might play on opposite sides of the field, but off it, the game's most lethal duo have never been closer. 

"We get on because this is our second life together," Vunivalu explained. 

"We leave home at like seven or eight in the morning and spend the rest of our days at the club. We get along with each other. When we have away games, we stay in the same room so that bonding is starting to get stronger."

There are some players who have gone their entire careers without playing in a grand final, but for Vunivalu, it's becoming a habit he is happily getting used to. 

"Who would have thought in my second year that I would be having another shot in the grand final!" he exclaimed. 

"I'm just really blessed. I pinch myself all the time to be playing in another grand final. I've just got to keep my feet on the ground because we've got another week ahead of a big game on Sunday. 

"I just try to treat every week like a normal game day. I know it's a final so I just try to contribute to the team and play good footy on Sunday."

The scary thing for opponents is that the Fijian flyer can only get better.

His numbers compared to 2016 have gone through the roof with Vunivalu running for more metres, setting up more tries and popping more offloads as he grows more comfortable in the 13-man code. 

"I definitely feel like I've improved from last year," he said. 

"Last year I would be quiet on the wing waiting for the footy. This year, once I see opportunities, I try to get myself involved early in the game. It's my second year and I'm still learning footy so it's been good."

 

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