First published on October 25, 2013.
IT’S no surprise Toulouse Olympique front rower Eloni Vunakece is playing career-best rugby league.
The 25-year-old Fijian-Australian is leading Toulouse’s charge towards a premiership in the 2012/13 French Federation of Rugby League’s Elite One Championship season, and puts it down to one thing.
“I’ve got a baby girl on the way so that’s probably got something to do with it,” Vunakece said.
“I’m loving everything. Footy is going good for me. I had an injury last year which ended my season earlier than I expected so I’m loving it at the moment being back out on the field playing some footy with the boys.
“I set myself a goal of being one of the top front rowers over here in the French competition at the start of the season so I’m just working towards that.”
Vunakece – named in the FFR’s Team of the Week for the past two straight weeks – admits he’s content with life, and with wife Mel expecting in January, there’s no reason why he shouldn’t be.
“You can spend your whole life working so why not spend the time when you’re young abroad and playing footy and seeing a bit of the world.” – Eloni Vunakece
“We’re both happy as hell to be over here enjoying France,” he said.
“Mel’s loving it over here. I think she’s going to enjoy having the two of us off (work) most of the time to help out with our first baby.
“It will be a challenge, but I’m looking forward to it. We finally had our first doctor visit (on Wednesday) and everything is going really well.”
The hulking prop is determined to continue his stellar form this weekend when Toulouse tackle competition leaders and 2011/12 grand finalists Pia Donkeys at Pia on Sunday.
The Donkeys are fresh from a fortnight’s break, and are certainly keen to return to the winner’s circle following their last start 44-20 thrashing at the hands of Lezignan – their first loss of the season.
“They’ve got a big, strong forward pack so my job is simple – be strong in the middle and carry us forward,” Vunakece said.
“I just want to keep playing some error-free footy and motivate the boys around me.
“I’ll just try and carry us forward, be strong in defence and hopefully we’ll get the win.”
Hailing from Sydney’s inner suburbs, a junior rugby player who dabbled in rowing at school,
Vunakece progressed through the grades at the Balmain Tigers before finishing in the VB New South Wales Cup in 2011.
Following the completion of the 2011 season he was presented with an opportunity too good to resist.
“(Current Toulouse teammate) Adam Innes got in contact with me by email about (signing with) St Gaudens,” Vunakece said.
“But, that ended up falling through and Toulouse was just around the corner and was keen for a few players so I went with them.”
And, since his arrival in September 2011, the former Australian television extra couldn’t be happier and didn’t hesitate when approached by the club about resigning for the 2012/13 season.
“There’s a great group of blokes over here, and plus I had a really fun time over here last season,” he said.
“You can spend your whole life working so why not spend the time when you’re young abroad and playing footy and seeing a bit of the world.”