James O’Connor may make the switch to NRL

First it was Quade Cooper. Now James O’Connor may be the latest Wallabies star to consider a shock code switch after being approached by the Brisbane NRL bid consortium.

James O’Connor’s management has held informal talks with the prospective NRL franchise in a sign the 20-year-old Western Force phenomenon could be lost to rugby union.

The bid team cannot reasonably afford O’Connor plus another rugby target, Queensland Reds five-eighth Quade Cooper or Crusaders and All Blacks star Sonny Bill Williams, but the loss of one of the Wallabies sensations would be damaging to the Australian Rugby Union.

The pressure valve for the ARU is that the reality a second Brisbane team cannot enter the NRL until 2013, if at all, depending on league’s expansion plan under the yet-to-be-installed independent commission.

But with Cooper having last week signed only a 12-month extension and O’Connor a fresh target, the ARU could eventually confront losing one or both of their gifted backline stars to league.

The Brisbane consortium is determined to strike a blow for the NRL.

Brisbane bid delegate Bill Rae, who has helped secure as many as 18 NRL players to letters of intent, confirmed their pursuit of O’Connor.

“We’ve had talks with James’s management,” Rae said on Thursday.

“We’ve been watching him play and we’re very curious to see if he would like a crack at league.

“James and Quade are good mates, they know each other’s games and we believe they would complement each other better in rugby league than rugby union.

“We respect the fact James has a World Cup to play. If he’s interested, we’ll continue talks.”

O’Connor’s solicitor, David Shand, refused to comment but confirmed the Brisbane bid team’s approach.

Former Wallabies Rugby World Cup winner Toutai Kefu said that O’Connor would be a smash hit in the NRL.

“If I was an NRL coach, the one guy I would be going after is James O’Connor,” Kefu, a veteran of 60 Tests, said.

The Force utility is tipped to make an announcement about his future at the end of the Super Rugby season.

He will decide between offers from Queensland, the Force and the Brumbies for the 2012 season.

No current NRL club is believed to have contacted O’Connor’s management about his services for 2012 or 2013.

O’Connor is happy in rugby union, but negotiations over his new deal have dragged on longer than expected as he weighs up the best move.

Australia’s second-youngest Test debutant, O’Connor is no stranger to rugby league having played the game while growing up on the Gold Coast.

“He’d definitely make it,” Kefu said.

“He is probably the guy who’s most adaptable to rugby league.

“For the ARU, it would be a kick in the guts to lose him.

“James could probably earn more money in rugby so that could be something that keeps him in the code.”

Buford Balony says: He should sign for WA Reds in 2013.


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