Suliasi Vunivalu will be a success in rugby, Lote Tuqiri & Drew Mitchell agree

As the countdown to the return of Super Rugby AU enters its final week, all eyes will soon turn to the debut of Australia's latest code-hopper: Suliasi Vunivalu.

Despite some mid-season uncertainty amid the coronavirus pandemic last year, particularly during Rugby Australia's crippling financial slide, Vunivalu later proved to be a man of his word as he exited rugby league on the ultimate high of Melbourne Storm's fourth NRL premiership crown.

Only a few weeks later, Vunivalu was in Wallabies training kit as part of Dave Rennie's Rugby Championship squad. While it was never the plan to blood the 25-year-old in those closing Tests against Argentina, it was a sign of the regard Vunivalu was already being held in and why he is arguably the biggest attraction in this weekend's opening round of Super Rugby AU.

Should he win selection on the wing for Queensland Reds against the Waratahs, as is expected, Vunivalu will take the next steps in what could see him tread the same trail as the likes of Wendell Sailor, Lote Tuqiri and, most recently Marika Koroibete, in trading NRL glory for Wallabies gold.

"He's come out of a great system, hasn't he? I think if you're any young budding footy player and wanting to go into a system, Melbourne at the moment is probably the best; they nurture that talent and brought Vunivalu's game to the fore," Tuqiri, who scored 30 tries in 67 Tests for the Wallabies, told ESPN.

"He can keep progressing at the Reds, but they [the Storm] brought out his strengths and I'm hopeful that he will keep going on that same line. I'm hopeful that he can do something for Australian rugby."

Vunivalu has one big edge on many of those who jumped codes before him in that much of his junior footy was played on the rugby field. A star of New Zealand schoolboy rugby with Auckland's Saint Kentigern College, the Storm brought Vunivalu across to Melbourne and reaped the benefits of his speed, size and power over the five-year period that followed.

In snatching a leaping intercept, regathering his feet and then sprinting 80 metres to score untouched in last year's NRL Grand Final, Vunivalu gave the Australian rugby community a glimpse of what he could bring to the game in 2021.

At 99kg and 192cm, Vunivalu seems tailor-made for destruction out wide.

"I just think his physical presence, people don't realise how big the bloke is, and he runs like the wind," Tuqiri said of Vunivalu. "I just hope for his sake they don't bulk him up too much. Just sort of let him be and he can handle that part of his game.

"I'm just looking forward to him getting his hands on the footy and coming back against the grain [on attack]. He probably won't have as much space as he's had in league, at times, but I'm just looking forward to Brad Thorn letting him progress at his own pace, and not overusing him; just easing him into different situations."

Former Wallabies winger Drew Mitchell also hailed Vunivalu's physical composition but said there would be certain differences the Fijian-born winger would need to adjust to before he really started to feel at home on the wing in rugby.

"From all reports, he's just a specimen, physically he's incredible," Mitchell told ESPN. "The aerial work, seeing him in top flight, is a spectacle in itself. Obviously there are going to be some nuances in the game that he's going to have to adapt to pretty well, and he doesn't have a huge amount of time to do that, like things around the breakdown, positioning and all that sort of stuff.

"I think what you see with rugby league wingers is that they finish really well, he won't have an issue with that. But what I want to see with his development is how comfortable he is moving around the field and getting off his wing, and going looking for [the ball] as well, you don't see that a lot from rugby league wingers. Often they do a lot of work coming out from their own end, and finishing [tries] but very rarely do you see them wandering around or going over to the other side, looking for involvements as well.

"So I think we'll see that throughout his development, but I'm really looking forward to seeing Suli on day one, and then mid to late season."

While reacquainting himself with the intricacies of entering a ruck could take some time, Vunivalu will also need to adapt to the different defensive structures and the fact that there are two extra men inside him.

That could lead to some hesitation of when- and when not- to perhaps come out of the line, or at least trusting those inside him to make the right defensive call and not leave Vunivalu on his own further along the line.

"He seems pretty smart, Suli. And he's played rugby before. It's all about communication, defence, and I reckon that's a big thing down at the Storm, talking to your back three," Tuqiri said of the defensive differences between league and rugby.

"And he's aggressive, I like his aggression in a game. As long as he doesn't go overboard, I think he'll do some good things [in defence]. But that transition is not too hard for a back, even less so a winger, it's like swinging a pendulum and just knowing where to be for kicks and general position."

Given his early introduction into the Wallabies fold at the end of last year, many judges have Vunivalu immediately pushing for a starting spot when Australia eventually takes to the field, as it stands against France, later this year.

The man whose footsteps he is almost identically treading, Koroibete, has a firm grip on the Wallabies No. 11 jersey, which could leave Vunivalu fighting it out for a spot on the right wing with the likes of Reds teammate Filipo Daugunu, Brumbies flyer Tom Wright and some other rising youngsters such as the Waratahs' James Ramm.

Wright's season has unfortunately already been curtailed by a knee injury that will keep him out for six weeks, but Mitchell still likes what he sees in the Brumbies winger and those other young backs who will play a big role for the Wallabies in the coming years.

"He's got the capacity to ball-play, he's played other positions in the midfield as well, he's very comfortable going looking for it," Mitchell said of Wright.

"When you've got someone like Marika, there's a good balance there and it also means that you've got other opportunities to get miss-matches, to get these fleet-footed guys like Tom Wright up against some of the bigger guys that are perhaps a bit more planted in their stance to try and create some momentum, some half line break opportunities or full line break opportunities. So I really liked what I saw from Tom.

"The pleasing thing from an Australian rugby point-of-view is that a lot of the guys that got their first opportunities in the gold jersey last year, they really took it and I'm really looking forward to seeing them cement themselves. And also with the new broadcast deal, becoming household names and names that junior rugby players aspire to be."

We'll have to wait at least a few months to see whether Vunivalu joins Australia's elite list of code-hopping wingers, but his presence on the field will be closely monitored by Wallabies selectors - and certainly Reds supporters - week to week.

He will certainly add another dimension to what is an already imposing Reds backline, and if Queensland are to go one better than last year and lift the Super Rugby AU trophy, Vunivalu is likely to have made an impact at some point of the season - and made a compelling case to Rennie in the process.

"They wouldn't have put him there if they didn't think he was a chance of getting to that stage," Tuqiri said of Vunivalu's short training stint with the Wallabies last year. "If I'm a selector, I'm throwing him in there and seeing how he goes.

"You don't want to put too many raps on him, and when I came over there was a bit of contention and people talking about putting me straight in [to the Wallabies team]; that I hadn't played enough rugby or I was taking the place of another young kid.

"But if they pick on ability and pick on merit, then going by his league ability he'll be there in the first squad."