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Storm code switcher is a “pretty special player”

Nelson Asofa-Solomona of the Storm and Suliasi Vunivalu of the Storm pose with the Premiership trophy after winning the 2020 NRL Grand Final match between the Penrith Panthers and the Melbourne Storm at ANZ Stadium on October 25, 2020 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

Brad Thorn didn’t need to see Suliasi Vunivalu’s spectacular NRL grand final try to convince him the Queensland Reds’ successful pursuit of the Storm flyer was worth it.

But Vunivalu’s intercept and 80-metre dash to the tryline in Melbourne’s 26-20 win over Penrith was further proof that the Reds’ recruitment of the 24-year-old winger was a wise decision.

“He’s been doing that for a long time ­- he’s a pretty special player,” Queensland coach Thorn said of Vunivalu.

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“People want to see those tries and see these athletes at their best. It’s great to have him coming here … it’ll be great having him in a maroon jersey.

“There’s certainly some strike, excitement and entertainment out wide if our forwards can do the job.”

Thorn, whose Reds’ contract extension was confirmed on Tuesday, said he understood Vunivalu’s motivations for returning to his rugby roots after playing the 13-a-side code.

All Blacks great Thorn did the same after a successful stint in rugby league with the Brisbane Broncos

“He’s got that rugby background and I understand where he’s at,” the 2011 Rugby World Cup winner said.

“He wants to answer that question and see if he can go all the way in rugby. He’s said that recently around being a Wallaby.”

Thorn said Vunivalu’s emotion after the Storm’s win on Sunday night was also a great sight.

“You love seeing that, what it means to those guys,” he said.

“We’re going to really enjoy having him here and I’m sure he’s really going to enjoy the group.”

Thorn and his resurgent Reds have some unfinished business to take care of after losing this year’s Super Rugby AU final to the Brumbies by just five points.

“It’s just about wanting to do stuff here,” he said.

“A lot of hard work’s been done. We’re looking to rip in.

“There’s a tight group there and they want to achieve some stuff.

“It would have been awesome to win the final. Hats off to the Brumbies, they got the job done, but there’s a lot more things we can improve just by being a year older.”

Thorn’s support staff – assistant coaches Jim McKay (attack) and Michael Todd (defence), Damian Marsh (athletic performance manager), Gina Nelson (head physiotherapist) and Thomas Barker (team manager) – also followed the coach’s footsteps by recommitting to the Reds for another year.

Queensland Rugby Union CEO David Hanham said in an “ideal world” the contract extensions would have been longer than just one season.

“But due to all of the uncertainty the coaching staff and board have agreed that the initial extension should be for 12 months, with a review once there is certainty on the broadcast and competition structure for 2022,” Hanham said.

Thorn called for Australian and New Zealand clubs to play each other next year after this season’s separate competitions.

“Down the Pacific here … you’ve got the makings of a world-class competition and we want to be part of that,” the Reds coach said.

“We just want to play the best, and try to match them and be the best.”

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