The Queensland Reds have trumpeted the drawcard signings of wayward Wallaby James O’Connor and code-hopper Karmichael Hunt for 2015.
Australian rugby’s prodigal son has returned home with James O’Connor pledging to finally fulfil his potential at the Queensland Reds.
The Reds trumpeted O’Connor’s return, on a two-year deal, and the acquisition of code-hopper Karmichael Hunt as drawcard Super Rugby recruits at their annual gala ball on Friday night.
The dual announcement has been in the pipeline for months but Queensland have also managed to deliver some surprise news with the encouraging signing of dynamic Kiwi-born Japan back-rower Hendrik Tui.
The trio’s unveiling is among a 29-man Reds squad for 2015 which also has space for two more key recruits, whose signings are expected in coming weeks.
Hunt, announcing an end to his 44-game AFL career on Thursday, has agreed to a three-year deal to become the second man behind Israel Folau to play in the top grade of all three winter football codes.
O’Connor is Australian rugby’s most significant signing for 2015. The wayward Wallaby returns from cashed-up French champions Toulon to jump back immediately on Test coach Ewen McKenzie’s radar for next year’s World Cup.
O’Connor, unwanted by all other Australian franchises, was punted overseas almost 12 months ago for drunken behaviour at Perth airport – the last in a string of misdemeanours.
Queensland Rugby Union chief executive Jim Carmichael, who confirmed the 24-year-old signed in May, as widely reported, insisted the Reds would bring the best out of the ultra-talented 44-Test utility.
“There’s risk in everything in life,” Carmichael said. “And where I sit at the moment, I’m very confident that he’ll thrive in our environment.”
The Gold Coast product, who was schooled at Brisbane rugby nursery Nudgee College, felt the Reds were the perfect fit for him.
“It’s great to be coming home. Look, I’m a Queensland boy through and through,” O’Connor said.
“I also think it is a place where I can be nurtured and really fulfil my potential in Australian rugby.
“For me to come home and pull on that Reds jersey is going to be a huge honour.
“Obviously, there’s a lot of hard work that needs to go into it and there’s a great culture in the team and one I just can’t wait to throw myself into.”
Carmichael revealed he started speaking with Hunt 10 months ago and the former Brisbane NRL player had the desire to become a dual international at the Rugby World Cup in England next September.
Reds coach Richard Graham bluntly admitted change was necessary after the poor third-last finish this year with an unpalatable 5-11 record.
Reliable utility back Ben Lucas was the unexpected axing among a group of seven offloaded players.
Taking Lucas’s place as Quade Cooper’s playmaking back-up will be Broncos under-20s player Duncan Paia-aua.
While Hunt and O’Connor will be provide off-field marketability and on-field attacking precision, it’s the 26-year-old Tui, with 25 Tests under his belt for Japan the past two years, who gives the Queensland pack the line-breaking threat it sorely lacked in 2014.
QUEENSLAND REDS SQUAD FOR 2015 SUPER RUGBY SEASON:
* Front row – Ben Daley, Saia Fainga’a (re-signed), James Slipper, James Hanson, Greg Holmes (re-signed), Andrew Ready (extended playing squad: EPS)
* Second row – Dave McDuling, Ed O’Donoghue (re-signed), Rob Simmons, James Horwill
* Back row – Curtis Browning, Lalo Fakaosilea (EPS – new signing), Liam Gill, Eddie Quirk (re-signed), Beau Robinson, Jake Schatz (re-signed), Hendrik Tui (new signing)
* Halves – Quade Cooper, Nick Frisby (re-signed), Will Genia, Duncan Paia-aua (new signing)
* Centres – Anthony Fainga’a (re-signed), Chris Feauai-Sautia (re-signed), Samu Kerevi (new signing), Ben Tapuai (re-signed)
* Outside backs – Karmichael Hunt (new signing), Chris Kuridrani (new signing), James O’Connor (new signing), Jamie-Jerry Taulagi, Lachie Turner