Where’s Suli? Storm superstar vanished for a year before signing
MELBOURNE spotted the Fijian flyer first.
Their try-scoring machine, Suliasi Vunivalu, was playing rugby union in Suva when Storm recruitment manager Paul Bunn first saw him.
But as quickly as Bunn had discovered the talented winger, he was gone.
Vanished. No one knew where he'd gone.
Vunivalu, who plays his 50th NRL game when Melbourne host North Queensland on Thursday night, was lost to the club.
"It was a long and drawn-out process to be honest," Bunn said.
"I identified him over in Fiji at a rugby carnival, he was playing for Mars brothers, and then I lost him.
"He just disappeared. All my contacts were saying, 'He's back up somewhere else' etc, etc."
But every now and then, the stars align and a miracle occurs.
That's how Vunivalu came back onto Bunn's radar.
It was just another day of sifting through numbers and watching vision when former Melbourne winger Matt Duffie mentioned to Bunn that his high school rugby team was in town for a game.
It was there Vunivalu was rediscovered and Bunn began the arduous process to sign the Fijian.
"Matt Duffie, who used to play on the wing for us said to me one day, 'My old school's playing down in Melbourne. There's supposed to be this big Fijian winger. He goes alright. Do you want to go and watch him?'," Bunn said.
"I said, 'Yeah we'll have a look'. So we got past the security there at AAMI and stood there and he scored off the kick-off. I turned to Duff and said, 'That's that Vunivalu mate. I've been looking for him for 12 months'.
"We knew the coach (of Saint Kentigern College), it was Tai Lavea. Tai and (Tasesa) Lavea played for the Storm. I went to him after the game and said, 'Mate we'd love to get this lad. Can you help us out?'
"He said 'sure' but then the rugby tried to draw a line between us and the kid."
Vunivalu, 22, joined the Storm at the age of 18 after Bunn met with Vunivalu's parents in order to get the deal over the line.
After two tough seasons in the 20s competition with his body adapting to the physicality of league and his mind adjusting to the new rules, it was through necessity that he was handed his NRL debut in 2016.
With a shortage in the backline due to injury, the door opened in Round 7 and he never looked back.
"It took us ages to get around it until the agent by the name of George Christodoulou, he rang me up and said, 'Listen, I'm meeting with the family of Suli Vunivalu and I know that you discovered him first. I'm going to give you first crack. How about that?'," Bunn said.
"Over we went together. An early-morning raid across to Suva and signed the boy and the parents gave us permission to get him over to the Storm when he finished school and from there when he did get to the Storm, he suffered a number of injuries and operations, rehab etc, etc.
"It took him ages to get through to first grade but he hit the ground running when he first got there."