SOME of Cooper Vuna’s fondest memories are of playing for the Newcastle Knights at Hunter Stadium.
The powerhouse winger spent three productive seasons at the Knights before switching codes last season and joining Super Rugby franchise the Melbourne Rebels.
Now the 24-year-old flyer hopes to return to the Hunter – but this time as a Wallaby.
Vuna was last night named in a 39-man train-on squad for a one-off Test against Scotland in Newcastle next Tuesday (June 5) and a three-match series against Wales.
‘‘My goal since I signed with Melbourne was to make the Wallabies,’’ Vuna told the Herald last night.
‘‘The one place I really want to play is Newcastle.
‘‘I have some great memories from Hunter Stadium.
‘‘My first try for the Knights against the Rabbitohs was pretty special. My son Lincoln, 4, was born about that time.
‘‘My second-to-last game there was also special when I scored four tries against the Broncos.
‘‘I loved just running out at Hunter Stadium and hearing the crowd.’’
The 22-man squad for the Scottish Test will be named on Sunday.
One of four specialist wingers in the extended squad, Vuna has a three-day camp in Sydney and the Rebels’ clash with the Brumbies at AAMI Park on Friday night to press his claims.
‘‘I don’t want to leave it to chance and will be out to step it up a gear this week,’’ he said.
Vuna joined the Knights from the New Zealand Warriors in 2007 and scored 35 tries in 54 games.
His four tries against the Broncos equalled the club record shared by Andrew Johns, Adam MacDougall, Darren Albert and Aku Uate.
He has taken time to adjust to the 15-man game but has stormed into Wallaby contention over the past month.
The Rebels were thrashed 66-24 by Wellington Hurricanes on Saturday night but Vuna was one of a few players who did not damage his reputation.
He scored two tries, was unlucky not to score a third, and was heavily involved.
The Wellington brace continued a string of eye-catching performances.
‘‘The key has been getting involved more,’’ Vuna said last night.
‘‘[Rebels fullback] Mark Gerrard has been a massive influence. He has taught me to get off my wing, get involved and go find the ball instead of waiting for it.
‘‘That is what I have been doing and it has paid off.’’
Maitland junior Nic White from the ACT Brumbies is one of three halfbacks, alongside Test regular Will Genia and the Rebels’ Nick Phipps, in the train-on squad.
Wallabies captain James Horwill and Rebels playmaker Kurtley Beale were ruled out after suffering injuries over the weekend.
Horwill will undergo scans today after injuring his hamstring in the Reds’ dramatic 13-12 win over the Brumbies on Saturday night.
Beale injured his shoulder against the Hurricanes. His absence, along with that of James O’Connor (liver laceration), Brumbies star Christian Lealiifano (knee) and utility Ben Lucas (groin) has fast-tracked Quade Cooper’s return to the national set up.
David Pocock is the leading candidate, ahead of Genia, to replace Horwill as captain.
But Horwill’s absence did not mean reinstatement for former Wallabies skipper Rocky Elsom, who was a high-profile axing following another injury-riddled season that hasn’t hit any heights for NSW.
Queensland and the Western Force both enjoy byes this weekend and their players are expected to make up the bulk of the side for the Newcastle Test, the first held in the city.
Wallabies squad: Benn Robinson, Ben Alexander, James Slipper, Sekope Kepu, Salesi Ma’afu, Dan Palmer, Stephen Moore, Tatafu Polota-Nau, Saia Faingaa, Nathan Sharpe, Rob Simmons, Kane Douglas, Cadeyrn Neville, Hugh Pyle, Sitaleki Timani, Dave Dennis, Scott Higginbotham, David Pocock, Michael Hooper, Ben McCalman, Wycliff Palu, Will Genia, Nick Phipps, Nic White, Quade Cooper, Kurtley Beale, Bernard Foley, Berrick Barnes, Mike Harris, Pat McCabe, Anthony Faingaa, Rob Horne, Digby Ioane, Dom Shipperley, Joseph Tomane, Cooper Vuna, Luke Morahan, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Jesse Mogg.