Rhinos bring in Vuniyayawa to replace Seumanufagai

Leeds Rhinos have moved quickly to fill the gap left by the departure of Ava Seumanufagai to replace the prop with Fijian international forward King Vuniyayawa, 25, on a one year contract.

The 6’2”, hard running middle joins from NRL side New Zealand Warriors having made his debut for the club last season with five appearances in the NRL. He played for Fiji in 2018 against Papua New Guinea and was in the Fiji team for games against Samoa and the Kumuls again in 2019, the latter as part of an impressive win in Christchurch that saw Fiji promoted to the Oceania Cup.

Vuniyayawa will be hoping to be part of the Fiji side at the Rugby League World Cup 2021 in England and help them to progress in a pool that includes reigning Champions Australia, Scotland and Italy. Fiji will be hoping to at least equal their achievements in the last World Cup in England back in 2013 when they reached the last four before eventually losing to the Kangaroos at Wembley in the semi final. 

Vuniyayawa grew up playing Rugby Union after his family, which includes five brothers and two sisters, moved from Fiji to New Zealand. He switched to playing Rugby League after high school after seeing Fijian superstar Jarryd Hayne in action at the 2008 World Cup.

He signed for the Warriors from his local club, Manurewa Marlins, having playing in the New Zealand domestic competition. He also played for Auckland clubs Papakura Sea Eagles and Howick Hornets.

After making his NSWRL debut for the Warriors in 2018, he was due to join NRL side Manly before he was unable to take up the opportunity. However, that was the Warriors gain as he was available in 2020 to make his debut with the Auckland-based side. 

Commenting on the signing Head Coach Richard Agar said, “I am looking forward to having King in our group. He has had to work hard to get to where he is in the game and his determination is something that appealed to us. 

“He has been a good performer in lower grades for the Warriors and performed well when he made the breakthrough to the NRL this season. 

“At his age and position, we think he is a player with plenty of potential in him. He carries the ball hard, has some real sting in his defence, and has good athleticism for a big guy.  On a one year deal, with a World Cup at the end of the year, and having spoken with King, we know we are getting a highly motivated player,” added Agar.

Leeds Rhinos Director of Rugby Kevin Sinfield says that the signing of Vuniyayawa will complete the squad for 2021 with the forward awarded the vacant number 19 squad number. He added, “We have been looking to add another middle to our squad for next season and King perfectly fits the bill. King is ambitious and keen to develop during his time at Emerald Headingley. I know from the teams that I was part of, that Rhinos fans really take overseas forwards to their hearts. When I think back to players like Ali Lauitiiti, Brett Delaney and Kylie Leuluai who initially came over for short spells but ended up making the Rhinos their home and I know that King is keen to follow in their footsteps.”

Vuniyayawa added, “I am excited and grateful to be joining Leeds Rhinos in 2021. I would like to thank Richard Agar for giving me this opportunity and he made the decision even easier for me to come over to play in Super League. I know Leeds have an extremely strong pack, I can’t wait to meet the boys and rip in.”