Suliasi Vunivalu’s red hot finish for Queensland was enough to convince both parties the NRL star had a future for the Wallabies. Photo: Getty Images

Exclusive: Wallabies’ big boost as former Storm star refuses NRL return for World Cup dream

In a big boost to the Wallabies’ World Cup hopes, flying winger Suliasi Vunivalu has turned down offers to return to the NRL by signing a one-year extension with Rugby Australia.

The 26-year-old two-time NRL premier has previously been closely linked to Wayne Bennett’s Redcliffe Dolphins, but the tryscoring machine wants to play at a Rugby World Cup.

While he signed a massive two-year contract worth an estimated $700,000 under former rugby director Scott Johnson, it’s clear he’s taken a big haircut to stay in the game for a chance to play in next year’s tournament in France.

But by signing only for one year, Vunivalu has left all doors open for his next move.

Suliasi Vunivalu of the Reds scores a try during the Super Rugby quarterfinal against the Crusaders. Photo: Getty ImagesSource: Getty Images

Should he, as expected, shine on the international stage, he will have huge dollars abroad and could still either stay with the Queensland Reds with a view to the British and Irish Lions in 2025 or return to the NRL.

Either way, it’s a good thing for both parties, with Vunivalu’s management playing a “cat and mouse” according to sources.

His retention is expected to be confirmed in the coming week.

Suliasi Vunivalu’s red-hot finish to Queensland was enough to convince both sides that the NRL star had a future for the Wallabies. Photo: Getty ImagesSource: Getty Images

On Sunday, Vunivalu took a big step towards his Test debut after being named in Dave Rennie’s 35-man Wallabies squad for the three-match Test series against Eddie Jones’ England.

After two frustrating seasons with the Reds, where the giant winger was constantly hampered by a series of hamstring injuries, Vunivalu finally showed his erratic skills last month.

He played against the Blues at Eden Park on a rough night for the Reds, then scored in their quarter-final loss to the Crusaders in Christchurch.

While his inclusion in Rennie’s squad raised some eyebrows who wondered what the winger had been up to in the game, the Fijian’s potential is huge.

Some Wallabies sources believe that Vunivalu is the most physically gifted athlete to ever play Australian rugby.

However, Vunivalu is not yet certain of a line-up against England on July 2.

Australian rugby coach Dave Rennie included Suli Vunivalu in his 35-man Wallabies roster for the series against England. Photo: AFPSource: AFP

But he has been named in the roster to allow the Wallabies staff to perform every step of the way, building his hamstring strength after he was a mess in the NRL, where he played continuously despite injuries during his successful stint with the Melbourne Storm.

“It’s not so much about covering Suli,” Rennie said on Sunday.

“We chose him because he has huge potential, we think we can accelerate his development within the camp instead of leaving him outside.

“He’s had his problems with injuries, we’ve seen glimpses of real quality and we’d like to get our hands on him and accelerate that.”

However, should he play against England, he will follow in the footsteps of Marika Koroibete and Israel Folau in making successful cross-code switches.

Folau scored an incredible double on the wing for the Wallabies against the British and Irish Lions in 2013, before moving to fullback where he won three John Eales medals.

Marika Koroibete can be joined by another former Storm star on the Wallabies team. Photo: Getty ImagesSource: Getty Images

Koroibete, who now plays under Robbie Deans in Japan, was described by Rennie last week as the world’s best winger and won the John Eales Medal in 2019.

In just his second Test – and first in the run-on side – he scored a double in the Wallabies’ draw in South Africa.

Whether or not Vunivalu plays against England, Rennie believes he can make it.

“We’re going to have 14 Tests this year, so there’s a lot of footy to play,” said Rennie.

“We sincerely believe that he is good enough to play at that level.

“That’s the decision we made, have him in the group and watch him day after day.”

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