I wrote an article almost a couple of weeks ago now foreshadowing a signing bonanza as the ARU’s signing deadline for the Melbourne Rebels passed. Well that deadline, 15 March, came and went and we heard nothing. Could it be that the Rebels actually OBEYED the ARU and hadn’t actually spoken to anyone prior to that date? I find that hard to believe.
Things changed a little at this week’s Weary Dunlop lunch. Here a packed house of Victorian rugby fans heard Rebels CEO Brian Waldron announce his first Australian signing in Laurie Weeks. But the Rebels aren’t the only ones who have been signing. So, in an effort to keep everyone up to date with who is going where and for how long, this the first Signing Wrap Up article, which I envision becoming a semi-regular feature over the coming month or so.
(Discounting the Rebels) The most active player in the market place recently has been the Waratahs. We are going back a little further than the last week to catch up with the previous signings, but so far we have:
Berrick Barnes: Re-signed for one year, by the Tahs, the length of this contract was questioned by some. The reason, however, is sound as Barnes last year signed a two year contract with the ARU, but just a single year one with the NSWRU. The new contract just brings both into line with each other. A very good signing, if only for the reputation of the organisation is maintained. If Berrick had up and left after just one year it would not have looked good (for either party). Berrick may still be finding his feet in the sky blue, but he is a fantastic player and a great signing for the Tahs.
Tom Carter: The Tahs have re-signed Carter for two years despite, apparently, some overtures by the Rebels. Carter’s loyalty remained with NSW and he is to be commended for that. As a player his value to the team seems to be far greater than the average pundit can grasp. He seems like a very popular member of the squad and is a dedicated trainer. Despite some shortcomings on the field, Carter never shirks his responsibilities, and for that you can understand Chris Hickey’s eagerness to keep him aboard.
Daniel Halangahu: Another two year contract extension for yet another inside back. Halangahu has really come of age over the last 12 months as a professional player. His play in the S14 last year saw him rewarded with a one year contract with the Tahs for 2010, and his good form so far has him rewarded with a longer term contract. Apparently another snatched from the Rebels, the signing provides some certainty in the crucial playmaking role for NSW.
Kane Douglas: Douglas has been somewhat of a revelation this year for NSW. At a time when Australian Rugby is crying out for locks, the 20 year old Douglas has stepped up to the grade big time and is sure to be on Wallaby coach Robbie Deans’s radar come the international season. Locks are a valuable commodity at the moment, evidenced by the Reds and Brumbies carrying 34 year old versions in their squad. Holding onto the 2m Douglas has given the Tahs the chance to fill the whole left by Dan Vickerman’s departure.
Patrick McCutcheon: McCutcheon is the least known of the recent signings, and the first one new to the professional squad. Whilst he’s been in the Junior Waratah squad, McCutcheon has also been captaining our Australian 7s team. A back rower there are no doubts he will be groomed to fill the shoes of Phil Waugh. With the ability to cover all three back row positions, McCutcheon’s skills and mobility harnessed on the 7s circuit are just the type of skills the modern day 7 needs under the current rules.
Locky McCaffrey: Ok, I’ll admit it. After watching McCaffrey play in the Reds v Tahs trial in Lismore I went out on a limb somewhat. I declared he’d play for Australia this year. Hmmm..so..he’s made the Tah match day 22 twice this year, and is yet to get onto the field. But I maintain my appreciation of his play and to be quite honest I still think he’s a chance to do it. It’s a long season. The rangey backrower reminds me of a Grand Slam era Steve Tuynman with his ability to link with his backs combined with his physical presence. McCaffrey was named Rookie of the Year for last year’s Shute Shield competition so my I’m not Robinson Crusoe in declaring my admiration of his talents. His two year deal is an excellent result for all parties and a credit to the development programs the NSWRU have in place.
Paddy Ryan: is a robust prop who comes from two of Australian Rugby’s finest nurseries – St Josephs College Hunters Hill and the Sydney University Rugby Club. Ryan has only just come into the NSW senior system this year as part of the Junior Waratahs and must be doing something right to be offered the contract more than likely vacated by Dan Palmer’s defection to the Brumbies. Keeping it personal he was another lad that stood out in that Lismore trial. He made a number of breaks including one that ended in a handy off-load to the trailing Brendan McKibbon for a try. It was an amazingly athletic piece of play, so much so that I assumed the lad in the 23 jersey was a back up centre. If Ryan can handle the stuff in tight, primarily at scrum time, he’s yet another extension of the Waratah prop factory that has dominated Australian rugby over the last half decade or so.
But it hasn’t been all good news for the Tahs, and they were somehow and seemingly gazumped by the Brumbies in one particular signing.
Dan Palmer: From all the reports in 2008 Palmer, arguably the best young scrummaging prop in Australia, was committed to the Tahs until 2011. But no. The Brumbies have signed him for two years from next year. It is a fascinating signing first of all because it would seem the Tahs, if those early reports are accurate, have released him? Additionally it provides the Brumbies with a particular front row strength with Wallabies Ben Alexander and Stephen Moore, the likes they haven’t had since Bill Young, Ben Darwin and Jeremy Paul packed down together . But also it seems to mean that Alexander’s life as a Tight Head Prop (of which he is the Wallaby incumbent), is close to complete? Surely the Wallabies can’t afford to have their test tight head prop spending the Super 15 season playing loose head (as he has been this year).
The Reds have started their re-signing campaign, and they needed to. With a reported 20 players off contract this year, plus a number of highly talented Academy players, for the sake of the sport in the state , signings needed to start.
Anthony & Saia Faingaa: I’ll say it. I was ready to write off Saia last year. I was worried about the impending retirement of Sean Hardman and the inexperience of James Hanson and saw absolutely no answer in Saia. Anthony, on the other hand, I saw potential (as thousands have before me). But boy have they stepped it up in 2010. Both have been outstanding for the Reds and both are Wallaby contenders. Exceptional men and natural leaders to boot, makes them vital signings for the youthful, but developing Reds team and it was excellent news to read of their commitment to another two years. Expect to hear more Reds re-signing in the coming weeks.
In the meantime, the Rebels have not much but a bunch of paper talk. There’s lots of rumours going around but as it stands right now it all comes down to Danny Cipriani and:
Laurie Weeks: The big Tight Head Prop has continued on from his 2009 form, for which he was named the Australian Rookie of the Year, with an excellent season so far for the Reds. His scrummaging has been strong and his work around the field exceptional. A Wallaby jersey awaits this year without doubt. In short, Weeks is an excellent signing for the Rebels. As the old saying goes the most important player in the team is the Tight Head Prop and the second most important player is the reserve Tight Head Prop. In Weeks the Rebels have signed the best available Australian Tight Head Prop in the country. As a Reds fan, I am disappointed, but if its all for the good of Australian Rugby then I am stoked (grumble grumble grumble)…
Adam Byrnes: Byrnes is in the midst of arguably his best Super 14 season. He showed glimpses of his potential last year, but has really stepped up to the mark this year, in the absence of Reds skipper and enforcer James Horwill. Byrnes worked hard in the off-season and came up with some remarkable results in the pre-season fitness tests. He’s a shot for the Wallabies, that’s for sure. His rise hasn’t been as rapid as Weeks’ or even as substantial, but with a couple of years of Super experience as well as his highly involved, highly aggressive style of play, he will be an important part of the debutant teams forward pack.
Oh, and the Force? Well they haven’t announced much either and to be honest, at the moment, you couldn’t expect much at all. They aint exactly an advertisement for the good life out west at the moment. In fairness though, they don’t have that many squad spots empty for next year….which may or may not be a positive for them.
Provincial Report Card – Week One.
Waratahs = B+. An excellent start for the Tahs in committing three key inside backs and one of their most promising forwards. Then to sign up three young forwards each with substantial potential, it is a great boost for the organisation, not just for 2011 and beyond, but for the rest of the current season. Grade slightly marked down for losing Palmer, and obvious replacement for the aging Al Baxter, and for not getting Berrick to commit for longer.
Brumbies = C+. Palmer is an excellent signing for a team that needs work on their scrum. A real coup. No ready replacement for George Smith yet is a concern however.
Reds = D+. The Faingaas are great, and an excellent signing which hopefully trigger more to come. But they lost Weeks and that’s big. Byrnes to a lessor degree if only because of the rare commodity locks are at the moment. Apparently they have 22 signatures, but we are yet to see anymore than Anthony and Saia’s.
Rebels = D. This is not to downplay the signings of Weeks and Byrnes, more that that’s all they’ve got. We’ve been waiting for this week ever since they convinced the ARU to bring the cut off date forward. Like the Reds, apparently more have ‘committed’, but until we’ve seen it officially we can’t really judge.
Force = D. They’ve signed no one recently which is the reason their mark isn’t an F because they actually don’t have much room to move in their squad with only a few players off contract. Now, this may be good management at a time when there is a new player in the market, but it also means they have limited ability to bring in new blood into a under performing current squad.
So onto next week! The Rebels in particular will be looking to amp it up considerably whilst the Tahs must be almost full! The Reds, well their in South Africa, so whether we get any of those promised ‘confirmed signings’ is questionable.