The Queensland Reds have confirmed they are in pursuit of former stars Quade Cooper and Leroy Houston as they attempt to beef up their struggling Super Rugby squad with much-needed experience.
Interim co-coach Matt O’Connor confirmed Cooper and Houston are in the franchise’s sights in a double coup that would dramatically transform the team and have flow-on implications for the Wallabies.
“We’re talking to a load of blokes. It’s ongoing,” O’Connor told AAP.
Cooper left the Reds at the end of last year to take up a rich deal with European glamour club Toulon.
But the mercurial five-eighth, who had his Olympic rugby sevens dream shattered this week, hasn’t hit his straps and would relish a return to Brisbane.
Back-rower Houston, an imposing 115kg, played for the Reds between 2008 and 2011 under Ewan McKenzie, coming off the bench nine times in their title-winning season.
The next year he moved to France, and since 2013 he has played at English Premiership club Bath, where he is regarded as one of the competition’s best forwards.
Despite having a year left on his contract, the uncapped 29-year-old has reportedly been tempted by a direct approach from Wallabies coach Michael Cheika.
European-based players become instantly eligible for Wallabies selection the moment they sign for an Australian side, under rules introduced by the ARU last year.
The Reds are desperate for experience after the exits of Cooper, Will Genia and James Horwill in the off-season, with flanker Liam Gill (France) and prop Greg Holmes (England) also set for European moves in 2017.
Queensland has already signed Wallabies captain Stephen Moore for next season, while the injured Kane Douglas is yet to play a game for the Reds after signing last year.
“Experience at this level is massively important,” O’Connor said.
“We lost a lot of caps and a lot of senior guys last year and the organisation’s working hard at the moment to attract as many quality players as we can.
“That’s an ongoing thing, something we look at weekly in relation to trying to attract the best quality candidates to the group that we can.
“As soon as we have information we’ll pass that on.”