James O'Connor

Special talent: the best place for superstar James O’Connor is with the Force.
Source: The Courier-Mail

IT appears James O'Connor is due to re-sign with the Western Force, and that is the best possible outcome for Australian rugby.

He was being chased by almost every province, including Queensland, who offered a decent package.

Two years ago if a guy of James O’Connor’s calibre was looking to move, Queensland might have even worn Waratah jerseys for a game if it would have secured his signature. Actually, on second thoughts, that’s going a bit far. But you get the picture.

The Reds would have loved to have James O’Connor. But they didn’t need James O’Connor. The Force do and Perth is the right place for O’Connor to play his rugby.

With David Pocock, Nathan Sharpe, Ben McCalman and Matt Hodgson in the forwards, the Force are forming a formidable team there. But if they lost O’Connor, they’d seriously struggle to keep to the scoreboard ticking over.

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The Force have scored 285 points and O’Connor accounts for 164, which equates to 57 per cent of their points. And as much as they rely on him on the field, they rely just as heavily on him off the field. He is a marketable face.

The best result for Australian rugby next season is to have O’Connor at the Force, Quade Cooper at Queensland, Berrick Barnes at the Waratahs and Kurtley Beale at the Rebels.

It spreads the talent out nicely, and those four guys you’d say are in the top 10-12 players in the country. You need to have that talent spread. But the part I can’t understand is the talk O’Connor is looking for a one-year contract. Similarly with Quade Cooper, there is simply no financial security when you sign a contract lasting just one year.

Yes, they want to look at their options after the World Cup. Fair enough. Whether they fit in Australian rugby, in rugby overseas or even in another code.

As far as their futures go, James and Quade are suited to rugby union. But I have concerns about the financial security of a one-year contract. A professional rugby player averages about eight years in their career. If you get 10-12 years, you’ve done well.

So while one-year deals might potentially give you more options, it also gives you far less financial security.

Some will make the argument a one-year deal keeps them on edge, and backing themselves to perform. I’m not convinced that’s the smart move.

With the Aussie dollar strong, and the offshore rugby market changing every year, both of those players were in a prime position to take a 3-4 year contract in Australia.

And at the height of the current market and at the height of their bargaining powers. It might play out they win a World Cup and one wins player of the tournament, and they’re in a strong position to look at other options. But it might not play out like that.

The alternative would be to take a three-year contract for 5 per cent less to give yourself financial security. No athlete wants to, but injury is a factor you simply have to consider.

There is a possibility you can be injured on or off the field and never play professional sport again.

It’s an unfortunate reality but if you suffer a career ending injury without adequate insurance, you are in the workplace a lot quicker than you thought. And certainly not on the income you were making in rugby.

In my other life, working for Westpac’s Sport & Entertainment arm Alpha, I am seeing more and more sportspeople coming to us with the thought process: What if I get injured and can never play again?

A harsh reality for any professional sportsperson and something that every athlete needs to consider.

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