Vunivalu’s last appearance in purple turned out to be spectacular on Sunday evening. His 80-meter interception of Nathan Cleary’s long ball was a critical 12-point blow in the storm’s 26:20 triumph.
The Fijian flyer told NRL.com that it “still has concerns” about his lucrative return to rugby with the Queensland Reds on a two-year deal that was confirmed last December.
Financially, the move is a breeze for the 24-year-old winger and young family, but he has investigated more than once this year whether the Reds contract would be honored amid the rugby union’s financial troubles following the COVID-19 pandemic.
In allusion to the esteem Vunivalu enjoys among his teammates, the storm returned to the damp grass of the ANZ stadium at 1 a.m. with a moving farewell to their star winger.
NRL.com understands that Melbourne players learned the words to the Fijian anthem “Noqu Masu” at the Sunshine Coast camp.
The song has delivered some moving moments in the recent history of the rugby league, sung by the Bati national team ahead of the games since the 2008 World Cup.
Speaking before receiving his emotional goodbye to his teammates, Vunivalu said he was really open to a storm reunion at some point in his career.
“I want to come back one day and finish here,” he said.
“I still have concerns [his rugby move], to be honest.
“I want to stay, but I have to accept this new challenge for myself.
Cameron Smith pays tribute to Victoria and then wins the Provan Summons trophy
“And there are younger guys coming through the club too, so I’ll give in to them.
“I’m trying not to think about it tonight, I’m in the moment now, celebrating.
“I’m very, very happy right now. It’s my last year so going out with a ring is very special.
“I figured it would be difficult to suffer defeat. This is my fourth grand final and I had two wins, I definitely didn’t want to be 1-3.
“I’m so grateful to Craig [Bellamy] and everyone here. I didn’t know anything about rugby league when I first showed up.
“But I’ve always been a big fan. When my manager told me, ‘Storm wants you,’ I was right there. ‘Take me there, I want to meet Billy Slater’. ”
While the Storm have especially played for their home state of Victoria, he has only seen daily video chats for Vunivalu, which includes the partner and two young children, since Melbourne’s move to Queensland.
“My family has been in Melbourne all season and some of us are in that position,” he said.
“I’ve only seen her from FaceTime. It sure is difficult, but that’s my job and so I put bread on the table for them.
“You understand and there are a lot of people in Victoria who are doing it a lot harder.
“I have my siblings from Fiji, my two children and my wife. I think the children were allowed to stay up for the game. ”
For the time being, Vunivalu appears as one of the game’s elite finishers with 86 attempts from just 111 Storm appearances.
Game highlights: Panthers versus Storm
Of all those four pointers, none caught Bellamy’s reaction when Cleary’s long ball got out of control in the 30th minute.
The veteran coach drove Vunivalus Sprint out of the coach’s box like Seinfeld’s Kramer on a hell mud and celebrated his own player as he shrugged off a late challenge from Panther’s fifth Jarome Luai.
“I’ve looked [Dylan] Edwards on my left and had no idea that someone was coming from behind, “Vunivalu grinned afterwards.
Vunivalu picks up a cleary pass
“Luai almost took me there. I didn’t see him, I should have looked at the big screen!
“I like to stand up hard in defense and when I saw this ball floating in the air, I kept putting my body on the line.
“Before the game I thought, ‘This is your last game, get your body on the line’. I didn’t want to sit there and think ‘what if?’
“A while ago I probably wouldn’t do that. I would probably just leave it [the opposition] catch it and tackle it. But this is a big moment and you have to take it. ”
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