With 2014 now behind us and signings being made ahead of next season we have had enough time to reflect on the rugby transfers made in both hemispheres over the past 12 months. This list has been compiled not on the glamour of signings but the players who have added to their respective teams the most. Next year big year for rugby transfers post World Cup but these are my top 10 signings of 2014.
- Sonny Bill Williams (Sydney Roosters to Waikato Chiefs)
Sonny Bill may not have touched a ball for the Chiefs yet however he re-signed for them in 2014 and has played union in 2014. He is a signing of significance importance to the New Zealand rugby public, his return drives the countries ambition to become the first team to secure back to back World Cup victories. There were doubts about the calibre of player that Williams may emerge to be upon his return to rugby union conversely early indications in a black shirt suggest he will be a force to be reckoned with in not only Super Rugby but also come World Cup time.
- Sam Burgess (South Sydney Rabbitohs to Bath Rugby)
If this were a list of the biggest name signings of 2014 Burgess would top the list, dubbed the ‘English Sonny Bill’ by many before he had even touched down in Bath, Burgess brought with him a media frenzy not seen before in Rugby Union. ‘Slammin Sam’ may have only played a couple of games for the west countrymen but he does look the business, the best player in the NRL last season he will look to cement a similar status in rugby union in no time at all.
- Imanol Harinordoquy (Biarritz Olympique to Toulouse)
At 34 cult hero Harinordoquy was expected to play out his remaining days at the relegated Basque club however the man had other ideas. He joined one of the top teams in France and hasn’t looked back since, rolling back the years to produce stellar performances in the league and in Europe. Able to play anywhere in the back row he has really added an offloading and ball handling ability to Toulouse’s back row, complementing the likes of Nyanga, Dusautoir and Picamoles superbly well.
- Jerome Kaino (Toyota Verblitz [Japan] to Auckland Blues)
The re-signing of Kaino proved to be a major coup for John Kirwin as he looked to improve his Auckland side ahead of the Super Rugby 2014 season. The Benji Marshall experiment may have crashed and burned after only six games but Kaino continued to put in solid performances either at 6 or 8 earning himself a place back in the All Blacks squad. At 31 his experience proved crucial to a struggling Blues team who ended up 10th, despite this disappointment Kaino can count last season as a success as he looks to be crucial to Steve Hanson’s plans of retaining the Webb Ellis Cup.
- Thomas Waldrom (Leicester Tigers to Exeter Chiefs)
When Thomas Waldrom rocked up in Devon people’s perceptions were that of a Leicester reject looking to pick up a pay packet before returning to New Zealand however they couldn’t have been further from the truth. Rob Baxter doesn’t sign players who aren’t hungry and boy did the ‘Tank Engine’ have an appetite to make his time in Exeter a success. Nine tries this season makes him the leading try scorer in the English Premiership, two ahead of none other than the try machine that is Christian Wade. Waldrom has been integral to Exeter’s rise up the table and he himself is pushing for an England recall.
- Kurtley Beale (Melbourne Rebels to NSW Waratahs)
Another man on this list returning to a previous club as Beale signed for the Waratahs after two years playing for the Melbourne Rebels. Beale proved to be a stand-out player for the title winning ‘Tahs, his combination with the likes of Isreal Folau and Bernard Foley ensured the men from New South Wales were not short of scoring tries in 2014. Beale played 12, a new role for him having previously plied his trade as an attacking fly half or fullback. The role seemed natural to the multi-talented Australian who flourished under the influence of head coach Michael Cheika bagging himself 8 tries. His discipline is still being questioned and unfortunately ensures his World Cup future is uncertain, however no one questions his abilities on the pitch.
- Teddy Thomas (Biarritz Olympique to Racing Metro)
The second player on this list to depart the relegated Biaritz, which still begs the question, how did they go down? None the less Thomas has been stand out for a few seasons now and at only 21 the winger is starting to show his credentials on the international stage where he has scored four tries in two games. His age means it is a shrewd bit of business by the Parisians who will surely expect to watch Thomas get better and better with age. Thomas has all the assets to make himself into one of the world’s best wingers and 2015 could be a big year for the Frenchman, if he remembers to turn up to training of course!
- Cornal Hendricks (SA Sevens to Free State Cheetahs)
A breakthrough year for the 26 year old from South Africa, he was signed from the South Africa Sevens side and joined the Cheetahs for the Super Rugby season in 2014. He is tall, quick and powerful, in the mould of JP Pietersen on the wing. He scored six tries for the Cheetahs in Super Rugby and took his province form into the international stage where he bagged five tries in eleven games for the Springboks. The signing of Hendricks to join the electric Willie Le Roux in the back three was good business by the men from the Free State.
- Nemani Nadolo (NEC Green Rockets [Japan] to Canterbury Crusaders)
A big man, with a big reputation of being lazy is what many were lead to believe. Nadolo’s rugby career until 2014 was that of unfulfilled talent and a man who couldn’t settle. He had spells at the Waratahs, Bourgoin and Exeter until finally settling in Japan. However the when the Crusaders came knocking the Fijian simply could not say no. At 6’5 and 125kg it is obvious what Nadolo brings to the table, however it doesn’t mean you can stop him. He had a remarkable season for the Crusaders where he secured his position in the starting XV and scored 12 tries in 15 matches for the Kiwi’s, subsequently he has signed a new two year deal and could be one to watch at next year’s Rugby World Cup.
- Malakai Fekitoa (Auckland Blues to Highlanders)
Twelve months ago the majority of rugby fans would’ve gone ‘Malakai Fekitoa who?’ the man was lost at the Auckland Blues and unheard of. Nevertheless in his debut season in Super Rugby, Fekitoa nabbed 7 tries in 17 games for the Highlanders, including what many believe to be the try of the year against the Sharks where he took on the whole team to score a superb solo effort. All Black fans knew a time would come when the Nonu/Smith axis would have to move on and they were not looking forward to it, the emergence of Fekitoa however has relieved the sense of dread. He made 8 test appearances in his debut year for the All Blacks scoring 2 tries, his ability to perform either at 12 or 13 ensures he will be in Steve Hanson’s plans for some time to come.