Flying Fijian's stocks set to soar
After watching Sisa Waqa and Marika Koroibete excel at the club, rookie Suliasi Vunivalu is set to follow in their footsteps and become the next Fijian flyer to forge a glittering career at the Melbourne Storm.
With injuries wreaking havoc in the Storm backline, Vunivalu was drafted into the starting side for Sunday's tense 19-18 win in golden point against the Tigers after Young Tonumaipea was a late withdrawal with a calf strain.
The 20-year-old winger was in the thick of everything on Sunday afternoon, grabbing a double in his first NRL game, including a try after just 58 seconds to etch his name into the record books with the quickest try on debut.
It was the highlight in a stellar 85-minute performance which included 188 metres and a surety under the high ball that belied his lack of experience.
Storm coach Craig Bellamy mightn't be confident enough to pronounce Vunivalu's name, but he was confident enough to predict a bright future in the game for the rookie winger.
"His name's Suli. I can't say his last name so I call him Mr Suli," Bellamy said after the one-point win.
"He's very, very respectful. He's a really good kid, really well-mannered and very quiet as most of the Fijian boys are.
"He really enjoyed it here being with Marika and to have them on the wings was good. Marika presented his jumper today and his mum and dad came over from Fiji.
"We didn't know he was playing until Friday. They didn't have a visa so it was pretty hard going for the people organising that but it was great for them to come over.
"He scored a couple of tries and he's a very strong kid so hopefully he'll play a lot more first grade and we think he will. We think he's a pretty special athlete."
There was one nervous moment for Vunivalu when he dropped the ball coming off his own line in golden point, but thankfully for him and the Storm, Mitch Moses' drop goal attempt sailed wide.
"That probably wasn't one of his strong points early in his career with us…respecting the ball a whole heap," Bellamy said.
"But he'd done a pretty good job today until that. Right at the end of normal time to clean up that kick that was bouncing around - anything could have happened."
Having grown up playing rugby union in New Zealand, Vunivalu made the transition to rugby league when he joined the Storm in 2014.
The 192cm winger featured in eight Holden Cup matches that year and was rewarded with several opportunities in the NSW Cup before injuries prematurely ended his season.
Given the club's glut of injuries in the backs, Bellamy says Vunivalu may very well have played himself into a regular spot on the wing after his impressive showing at Leichhardt Oval.
"He hasn't played a whole heap of league. He was in a private school in New Zealand playing union on a scholarship. I think after today we're going to see a lot more of him," the Storm coach said.
"We were really happy with him and his performance today and we're really proud of him because he's had a lot of injuries over the years. He's only 20-years-old and he's basically playing a new game and he hasn't played much because he's been injured a fair bit.
"We're really proud of him and hopefully he can go on and have a good career with us."