The St.George Queensland Reds have secured the signature of former Wallabies playmaker James O’Connor for the next two seasons.
O’Connor will return to Ballymore after signing with Queensland and Australian Rugby through 2021 following two seasons with English Premiership club Sale Sharks.
The 29-year-old boasts 44 Test caps and has scored 223 international points after he made his Australian debut in 2008 as the second-youngest debutant in Wallabies’ history at 18 years and 126 days.
Born in Southport on the Gold Coast, O’Connor scored 44 points (13C, 6P) in 12 matches for the Reds during the 2015 Super Rugby season.
Rugby Australia Director of Rugby Scott Johnson said: “James has immense Rugby talent. He started his career in Queensland and this is a chance for him to show his full potential for his home state.
“Now is the time for James’ Rugby to do the talking. He’s come home for the right reasons to play Rugby and to help develop our Rugby programs.
“He’s matured and understands the leadership roles both on-and-off the field. He’s been honest and transparent throughout this whole process.
“We want to back the man to be the player we know he can be,” said Johnson.
Queensland Rugby Union (QRU) CEO David Hanham said: “We’re pleased James will return to Ballymore after two successful years with Sale in the English Premiership.
“In our discussions with James, he’s been very open with us around the opportunity he had in northern England to reassess areas of his life and to re-evaluate his approach to professional Rugby.
“The feedback from Sale is that he’s been a strong contributor both on and off the field and we believe that he’s a different person to the player that left Ballymore in 2015.
“We’re looking forward to welcoming him home and watching his contribution to the Reds in 2020. I know he’s determined to put his best forward for this state,” said Hanham.
Reds head coach Brad Thorn said: “James has represented his country at the highest level. He’s got more than 70 games of Super Rugby experience and has played Rugby in some of the top European competitions.
“His time in England has seen him mature as a player and a man.
“He’s been playing at inside centre for Sale this year but offers great versatility to our backline. He’s a Queenslander and as a group, we welcome James back to Ballymore,” said Thorn.
James O’Connor said: “Firstly, I just want to say how grateful I am to be given this opportunity again. There’s been a lot of work put in behind the scenes and a lot of guys have shown faith in me so all I’m focusing on right now is putting my best foot forward. I have a bigger ‘why’ now and that is what fuels me. In saying that, I’m excited to be back here. Even at 29, I’m still learning and we’re really pushing each other. It’s been an intense hit the last few weeks, but I think I’m in a lot better place physically.
“I’m a Queenslander. I was born there. I started playing Rugby there. It’s where the dream began. I think a big part as well is that I owe Queensland the best version of myself. I came back last time and I wasn’t in the best place mentally, but also physically I was quite broken, so I couldn’t produce and perform the Rugby I wanted to for the team. I’m finally ready to return and make amends. I want to do right by the team and the fans, and I intend to deliver the very best of my energy. If I can help the team get back to the top of the sport and if we can bring success back to Queensland, that would be a dream for me.
“The last time I returned, I thought I was ready to repair some of the mistakes I made but also reach my Rugby potential, but it was too rushed. I didn’t recognise how much pain I was still in mentally, in saying that, I wouldn’t change it because I was guided to the correct mentors. I’ve been on a journey ever since to understanding my true self and how I’m meant to use my privileged position in Rugby. I see now that Rugby is a gift and I want my journey back to inspire possibly other young men out there who may be a little lost in the world right now. If I can make it back from adversity, then so can you.
“I think 12 is my position. I’ve been playing there the last two years and I’m most comfortable there. I think it’s best with the style of Rugby I play and the way I have developed being overseas. Also, I’m now a bit of a nugget so I fit in there quite nicely. But of course, I will cover anywhere in the backline – whatever the team needs. It would simply just be an honour to put the shirt back on again. I would play prop if I had to,” said O’Connor.
The St Joseph’s Nudgee College product became the youngest-ever Super Rugby debutant at age 17, when he came off the bench for the Western Force against the Reds in 2008.
He played four seasons with the Perth-based club and then signed a two-year deal with the Melbourne Rebels in 2012, before heading overseas to European Rugby in 2013.
O’Connor played 14 games with English Premiership side London Irish and then signed with French rugby powerhouse Toulon the following year.
He returned to Australia with the Reds in 2015, before leaving for a second European stint with a grand total of 525 Super Rugby points across 71 career games.
O’Connor played another season of Top 14 French Rugby with Toulon and then moved to the north of England with Sale Sharks.
During the past two seasons at Sale, O’Connor scored three tries in 31 matches for the club – including 25 games of English Premiership Rugby.
Position: Utility back
Place of birth: Southport, Australia
Senior Club: –
Junior Club: –
School: St Jospeh’s Nudgee College
Representative Honours: Australian Schoolboys (2007), Queensland Schoolboys (2007), Australian Wallabies (2008-2013), Western Force (2008-2011), Melbourne Rebels (2012-2013), Queensland Reds (2015, 2020-), London Irish (2013-2014), Toulon (2014, 2015-2017), Sale Sharks (2017-2019)
Super Rugby debut: 2008 v Reds, Brisbane (Western Force)
Super Rugby caps: 71 (Force 38, Rebels 21, Reds 12)
Test debut: 2008 v Italy, Padova (Australia)
Test caps: 44 (Australia)