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Force confident of retaining O'Connor

By Tim Clarke 08/05/2008 05:29:04 PM Comments (0)

Western Force bosses are confident teenage star-in-the-making James O'Connor will turn down an offer to defect to New Zealand rugby.

Following an eye-catching Super 14 start against the Chiefs last weekend, reports from the 17-year-old's Gold Coast homeland this week said he was seriously considering an offer to cross the Tasman to pursue his fledgling rugby career.

But the Western Force, who snaffled the diminutive playmaker on a one-year contract from under the noses of the Reds and the NRL last year, say they are in the box seat to retain O'Connor's services, having already been compared with teammate Matt Giteau and Wallaby great Tim Horan.

Former acting Force chief executive Mitch Hardy, who is still dealing with the Force's contracting negotiations, confirmed O'Connor has been offered a two-year deal to stay in Australia and Perth.

"We have got our best offer on the table at the moment and we were quite encouraged when we looked to retain James," Hardy said.

"It is sitting there waiting for his signature when he is ready. There is no pressure on him at the moment, but with him being in the limelight at the moment, the NZRU are taking an interest.

"He has got to explore all his options, that is the simplicity of it."

In the unique position of qualifying to play for all three SANZAR countries, through New Zealand-born parents and a South African grandmother, O'Connor is in New Zealand this weekend to take on the Hurricanes in Wellington, with his grandfather planning to be a spectator.

NZRU scouts are also likely to be looking on, after becoming interested in the Nudgee College product when Queensland tyro Quade Cooper cooled on an offer to follow his Waikato bloodline.

Hardy said the relationships O'Connor has built in the west since moving would be a key factor in his considerations.

"The NZRU were talking to Quade Cooper, and I believe that has stagnated somewhat," Hardy said.

"I guess they are looking at one or the other and the fact of the matter is they were both with the same management group.

"(James) has already established a great group of friends over here in Perth, made some good mates, playing some good rugby and he has got some good coaching.

"Why would he leave beautiful, sunny Perth to go and live in windy Wellington or the south of the South Island?"

O'Connor's agent Anthony Piccone did not return AAP's calls, but told the Gold Coast Bulletin newspaper negotiations were at a delicate stage - although interest in O'Connor from NRL was unlikely to be reciprocated.

"The money in league probably can't match what he could earn by staying in union. There wouldn't be too many 17-year-olds getting what's been put forward for James," Piccone said.

Following his run-on debut last week, Force coach John Mitchell promised the hot prospect would be looked after in WA.

"This is the starting point in his rugby career, and starting so early can often be the hardest way to sustain performance. We will look after him," Mitchell said.

Meanwhile as the Force lost out to the Brumbies in attempts to secure hooker Stephen Moore's signature, another teenage sensations David Pocock has told the club he will not be making any immediate decision on his playing future,

With the retirement of Reds flanker David Croft, the QRU are believed to be intensifying their efforts, but Pocock is insisting he wants to play out the season before making a decision.

"That won't be resolved before the end of the tournament," Hardy said.

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