How did Suliasi Vunivalu become a Melbourne Storm player?
It is an epic tale that spans across three different countries, countless flights, four hour drives across Fiji and a game of cat and mouse you would not believe.
Melbourne Storm Head of Recruitment Paul Bunn will be sharing his Scouting Stories right throughout the 2018 season and he ranks his Suliasi Vunivalu one up there with the very best of them.
It started in 2013 when Bunn found himself in Fiji watching a game of rugby union. Marist Brothers High School were playing and he spotted this hulking 15-year-old out on the wing who was leaving the other kids in his wake.
Excited by what he saw but with very little information to go off, Bunn simply wrote down the name ‘Suliasi Vunivalu’ in his little black book.
“I went back again a little later on in the year and he’d disappeared, there was no Suliasi Vunivalu,” Bunn said.
“I didn’t have enough contacts to find out exactly where he was so I just put him in the back of my mind.”
Months went by and all hope seemed to be lost.
Then a chance conversation between Bunn and Matt Duffie, a Storm winger at the time, suddenly reignited the flame.
It was at the start of 2014 when Bunn heard from his Fijian contact, known only as ‘The Big Cat’, that Vunivalu might have gone to New Zealand to play rugby.
As it so happened, Duffie was a graduate of esteemed rugby union school Saint Kentigern and he invited Bunn to come along to watch his old school play in an upcoming game.
“He said to me that there is this really big Fijian playing for Saint Kentigern who is supposed to be everything and more,” Bunn said.
“So I get there in time for the game, the other team kicks off and this kid catches the ball, runs the whole field and scores straight away just like that.
“I said to Duff, ‘that’s Suli Vunivalu, I’ve been looking for him for ages’.”
However by then the cat was out of the bag – word had gotten out Vunivalu. The race for his signature was on.
It was in that crucial moment that the character of Vunivalu, not as a player but as a person, came to the fore and shaped his path to Melbourne.
“I got a call from Suli’s agent who asked if I was still interested in him,” Bunn said.
“The agent said, ‘because you were the first guy to ever make contact and find him, Suli wants to work together and give you every chance to make him a Storm player.”
And just like that Bunn was off to the airport, passport in hand and bound for Fiji.
Bunn arrived in the capital of Nadi and upon checking into the hotel he quickly realised he was not alone – 10 other scouts from other Clubs were over there trying to do the exact same thing.
“I was anxious to sign him having known that all the recruiters were staying in the same hotel,” Bunn said.
“So we snuck out the next day at 5.30am in the morning, jumped in the car and away we went. We had lunch with the family, signed up, drove back and slipped back into the hotel with the rest of the recruiters and never said a word.
“The kid showed tremendous loyalty to Storm.”