ONCE WERE WARRIORS: COOPER VUNA

Cooper Vuna – Warrior #118

Warriors (2004-06): 5 games – 1 try (4 points)
Newcastle (2007-10): 54 games – 35 tries (140 points)
FIRST GRADE TOTAL: 59 games – 36 tries (144 points)

Robust winger Cooper Vuna progressed through the New Zealand junior representative system to become the youngest-ever Warriors first grade player.

As a member of the Warriors junior development program, Auckland-born Vuna played for the Junior Kiwis on the flank for the drawn series with the Australian Schoolboys in 2003. After impressive tryscoring form for the Otahuhu Leopards Bartercard Cup team in 2004 he was drafted into the Warriors’ NRL side late in the season.

At just 17 years and 47 days, Vuna came off the bench in a heavy loss to Parramatta, becoming the youngest player to appear in first grade for 11 years (Adam Ritson was 16 years and 303 days when he made his debut for Cronulla in 1993). He was promoted to the starting line-up a week later, crossing for a try in a narrow loss to eventual grand finalists Sydney City.

Despite more prolific try-poaching form for Otahuhu the following year – including four a four-try haul Bartercard Cup haul – the speedy finisher could not break into the Warriors squad in 2005, with Francis Meli, Todd Byrne and fellow teenager Manu Vatuvei preferred.

Vuna’s ability to find the line for Tamaki in the 2006 Bartercard Cup resulted in selection for the New Zealand Residents, and he scored a double against NSW Country in the Residents’ victory in the final of the Trans-Tasman Quad Cup series.

This form led to a late-season ’06 NRL recall, starting on the wing in losses to the Eels and Panthers and coming off the bench in a win over the Cowboys. Vuna then returned to the Bartercard Cup, scoring in consecutive weeks during Tamaki’s unsuccessful finals campaign. In the post-season Vuna scored a try for New Zealand A against an Australian Invitational side and played for NZ Residents against a full-strength Kiwis side.

After spending the early part of 2007 stuck in Premier League, Vuna was granted a mid-season release to join Newcastle and walked straight into a first grade spot against the Brisbane. After four weeks back in Premier League for the Knights, Vuna played the last 10 rounds in first grade, crossing for seven tries.

Vuna backed up another solid seven-try return in 19 appearances for the Knights in 2008 with three tries in three World Cup matches for Tonga. He played just seven top-flight games the following season before a career-best 2010 campaign that garnered 16 tries in 17 games, which attracted the interest of the Australian Rugby Union.

During three seasons with the Melbourne Rebels Super Rugby outfit, Vuna played two Tests for the Wallabies. He has since had overseas stints with Toshiba, Worcester and Bath, while also representing Tonga.

Vuna’s nephew, Joseph Vuna, debuted for the Warriors on Anzac Day in 2018.

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