Queensland Reds squad to stay tight: Graham
May 7, 2013
James Slipper is the next major re-signing expected for Queensland over the coming weeks © Getty Images
James Horwill's new two-year deal starts the ball rolling on a string of Queensland re-signings with upgraded Reds coach Richard Graham confidently tipping the Super Rugby franchise will retain 90 per cent of its players for 2014.
As reported exclusively on ESPNscrum last Friday, as many as four Wallabies were expected to delay re-signing with the Reds if Ewen McKenzie left the franchise as planned.
Graham, to take over from McKenzie as Queensland's coaching chief after this Super Rugby season, has been busy re-signing a string of off-contract players in a positive signs about what Horwill described as a "seamless transition".
"Ninety per cent of the group will remain together," Graham told AAP.
Such a result would mean no other losses on top of the departures of backline trio Digby Ioane, Luke Morahan and Jono Lance, plus an end to veteran Radike Samo's fairytale four-year Queensland stint.
Wallabies skipper Horwill's re-signing was good timing for the Reds on Monday after Ioane last week snapped up a $2 million-plus contract in France and utility back Lance signed with the NSW Waratahs.
With Test back-rower Scott Higginbotham the only big name Queensland lost last year, there had been fears the 2011 title-winning team had started dismantling with McKenzie's decision to stand down and chase an international appointment.
But Graham dismissed such concerns at Horwill's contract announcement at Ballymore. "It's a really good vote of confidence for the organisation and a real start of what you will see over a number of weeks where we'll announce a number of players," Graham said.
"Digby is a big loss for Queensland rugby. (But) the one thing about Queensland is that over a number of years we've been very good at bringing young kids through."
Boom three-quarter Chris Feauai-Sautia is set to remain at Ballymore in a key retention while the Reds are supporting outstanding 20-year-old flanker Liam Gill as he negotiates with the Australian Rugby Union for a top-up contract.
Graham, who coached at the Western Force in 2011-12, also denied the Reds were looking to bolster their backline by chasing off-contract stars James O'Connor or Israel Folau.
The Australian conference winners last season, Queensland face the Sharks at Suncorp Stadium on Friday night looking to keep on the tail of the table-topping Brumbies who hold a two-point advantage going into their bye.