Fiji preparing to unleash aerial bombardment on USA
THE USA Hawks are about to face the toughest aerial assignment of their lives, with Fiji to unleash Melbourne Storm winger Suliasi Vunivalu with a barrage of high balls.
Jarryd Hayne and Vunivalu linked up during Fiji's training session at 1300 SMILES Stadium yesterday, with Hayne booting a series of pinpoint cross-kicks at Vunivalu.
Fiji coach Mick Potter said it was no secret his game plan was to launch an aerial assault on USA tonight via Hayne at five-eighth, and while Fiji's Marcelo Montoya will be a threat down the left side, it's Vunivalu who will be the main weapon on the right.
"It's one of our strengths that we're able to take from the Storm, that kicking to Suli is going to be a big assist for us," Potter said.
"That's not to say we can't kick elsewhere.
"We have got some other players who can catch the ball as well, but certainly he (Vunivalu) will be targeted."
Vunivalu's electric form in 2017 help propel the Storm the NRL premiership, with Vunivalu part of the Melbourne squad that beat North Queensland 34-6 in the NRL grand final.
A physical specimen standing 192cm and weighing 100kg, Vunivalu will square off against the USA's left winger Bureta Faraimo, one of the few USA players with NRL experience.
The former Parramatta Eels player will have his hands full on the ground against Vunivalu, let alone in the air, and Fiji captain Kevin Naiqama says Vunivalu will get full service from Hayne's boot despite the NRL superstar's relative lack of kicking in recent years.
Hayne last played in the halves at club level in 2011 and has rarely put boot to ball at the Titans, who are guided around the park by young halves Kane Elgey and Ashley Taylor.
Potter thinks Hayne will be anything but rusty with his kicking game.
"Jarryd's a very good kicker, although he probably hasn't kicked much the last couple of seasons," he said.
"He's very good naturally.
"When he was younger he kicked a lot, and you don't lose that ability and he's been practising quite a lot.
"And everyone's seen what Suli can do, he's enormous in the air and he's very hard to compete against.
"I'm hoping he gives the opposition a little bit of trouble."
Bath captain Naiqama said the Hayne and Vunivalu combination could be Fiji's biggest attacking asset.
"I think it's the X-factor in the back of our trick book in regards to last plays," he said.
"He (Vunivalu) definitely shows it in the NRL, it's up in the sky.
"We want to try and give him as much opportunities as we can on the weekend, and for the rest of our matches."