By Sam Phillips
The Waratahs have finally reversed the flow and recruited a Wallabies player for next season, with 25-Test forward Ned Hanigan agreeing to terms ahead of a return to NSW.
Hanigan has spent the past six months plying his trade for second division Japanese Top League side Kurita Water Gush but with the lower tier competition now complete, sources close to the 25-year-old told the Herald he will return to Sydney in May.
Sources with knowledge of the situation told the Herald Hanigan had not yet signed on the dotted line but confirmed he has agreed to terms with NSW.
The forward is not expected to be available for the trans-Tasman portion of the Super Rugby season.
When his contract is registered for the 2022 Super Rugby season, it will ensure he’s available for selection in the Wallabies squad that Dave Rennie picks to face France in July.
The blond-haired Wallaby was one of several internationals to depart Daceyville at the end of last season.
The departure of Michael Hooper, Kurtley Beale, Rob Simmons, Karmichael Hunt, Tom Robertson, Tom Staniforth, Jed Holloway and Hanigan has left an incredibly inexperienced squad for the 2021 season and the club has subsequently failed to record a win through its first six games.
While the expected return of Lachie Swinton against the Force on Friday week will give interim co-coaches Jason Gilmore and Chris Whitaker a selection headache in the back row, Hanigan will fill the position the Waratahs desperately need to bolster - lock.
Young guns Max Douglas and Jeremy Williams were very good in the two-point loss to the Brumbies but Hanigan’s return will bring years of experience and physicality to the position.
On a national front, Hanigan played five Tests - including four starts at No. 6 - under Rennie last year and given his versatility, he would be a handy addition to the squad which face rising European power France in July.
Hanigan’s return is an important piece of the puzzle that is rebuilding the Waratahs but there is arguably a more important signature still to be secured in Angus Bell.
Gilmore believes the 20-year-old has the ability to become a world class loosehead prop but knows the Waratahs must show they are capable of developing him into that calibre of player if they’re to secure his services beyond this season.
“He obviously has family history here and has come through the system here. He’s really important for the success of this club over the next five years, minimum,” Gilmore said.
“Aware of the chat through his management and that type of thing but I’d be really disappointed if Belly left. We have to show him a good program as well.
“He’s a guy who wants to develop into the best loosehead in the world. We have to make sure that we match that.”
“He’s got good work ethic, he’s smart, he’s tough and he knows where he wants to go. Belly’s biggest thing that he needs to work on is just keeping his game simple.
“When he keeps his game simple and he keeps out the clutter, that’s when he plays at his best.”