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Vunivalu kept quiet on debut as Waratahs register trial win over Reds

The Reds opted to hold back new winger Suilasi Vunivalu until the second half, opting to keep cards close to their chest.

There was a cross-field kick that went the former Melbourne Storm winger’s way on the right edge but it wasn’t accurate enough. His shift was more grunt than glamour as he helped out at attacking rucks where possible.

He carried the ball back off a line dropout and made an intercept in a quiet maiden outing coming off an NRL grand final win.

“It’s important he got out there and his first taste of rugby since he was 18 years old,” said Reds coach Brad Thorn. “He had a few runs, made a few tackles.”

NSW coach Rob Penney is already a fan.

“What an athlete,” Penney said. “He’s going to be great for the game here. Just needs time. Expectation is probably pretty high but the fella just needs to get used to the change. There were elements there were you could see where he is going to be more than useful.”

Overall, both coaches conceded there was early-season rust yet were pleased to get minutes into some fresher faces.

Reds winger Jock Campbell skirts the Waratahs’ defence.

Reds winger Jock Campbell skirts the Waratahs’ defence.Credit:Getty

“There were typical early season inaccuracies but overall we got to watch a lot of our boys,” Penney said. “Overall we got something out of it.”

Thorn added: “A few too many errors, man. I know it’s our first trial game. A lot of the guys worked hard over the pre-season.”

There were indeed mining protesters, unhappy at Santos’ affiliation with NSW Rugby and Queensland Reds and sponsoring of the successful weekend festival of rugby.

However, they were peaceful and did not cause major drama as they made their presence heard from outside the fence at the south-west end of the ground in front of the Narrabri corporates enjoying arancini balls and cans of rum with the sun setting behind them.

Protesters led by the Gamilaraay Next Generation Indigenous action group chant outside the Super Rugby trial match between the NSW Waratahs and the Queensland Reds.

Protesters led by the Gamilaraay Next Generation Indigenous action group chant outside the Super Rugby trial match between the NSW Waratahs and the Queensland Reds.Credit:Getty

They blasted sirens through microphones for the first 10 minutes but weren’t seen afterwards.

A superb break from Jock Campbell set up Reds halfback Moses Sorovi for the first five-pointer of the evening.

Yet it was new 21-year-old Waratahs signing Michael Wood, the former Junior Wallabies representative, who couldn’t be brought down from long range as he scored terrific try.

A penalty try off a driving maul put NSW in front briefly before Seru Uru ensured Queensland regained a two-point lead.

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Regular captain Jake Gordon was introduced in the 28th minute, with Jack Maddocks, and had immediate impact.

Near the line, Gordon picked up the ball and leaped over a ruck, got some serious airtime, before planting the ball down for his team’s third try.

“It was an awesome first hit-out,” Gordon said.

The town of Narrabri has waited years to host such a fixture and there was palpable excitement in the town at welcoming some of the best Australian rugby has to offer. They certainly put on a show.

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They were treated to the commentary of new Nine and Stan signings Tim Horan and Morgan Turinui at the northern end of the ground, sitting on the same stage where Thirsty Merc had just played a set.

If the second half was an indication of how the Waratahs will line up in round one, Gordon and Will Harrison will be the halves, Tepai Meoroa (No.12) and Joey Walton (No.13) will be the centres, while Izaia Perese and Alex Newsome could feature on the wing with Jack Maddocks at the back.

James Ramm didn’t play on Friday but will come into calculations.

Perese was tricky to tackle and tried an audacious chip and chase late in the match, while Harrison found his groove when introduced in the second half.

Carlo Tizzano was shown a yellow card with 17 minutes remaining and the Reds pounced when Filipo Daugunu bumped off Gordon down the left wing to level scores before Bryce Hegarty’s crisp conversion.

But it was Walton’s two late five-pointers, both set up by Harrison, that was the difference in the end on a night that keeps Penney happy for the time being.

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