Leicester director of rugby Richard Cockerill insists Manu Tuilagi is “worth the gamble” after making the England centre the English Premiership’s highest-paid player despite his recent injury troubles.
Tuilagi rejected lucrative approaches from Wasps, Saracens and Worcester, among others, to agree a new three-year contract reportedly worth over STG425,000 ($A885,000) per season.
The explosive 24-year-old should be entering his prime but has lost the last 14 months of his career to the rehabilitation of a groin injury that has been complicated by repeated setbacks.
January has been pencilled in for his long-awaited return and, while a fit Tuilagi is among the most devastating runners in the game, his long-term absence means there is an element of risk over the new contract.
“I think he’s worth the gamble. He’s been here a long time and has played a lot of rugby for us,” Cockerill said.
“Clearly he’s had some injury issues which have kept him away from the field, but he’s a genuinely world class player who has come through our academy.”
Tuilagi’s troubled year reached its nadir with his conviction for assaulting two female police officers and a taxi driver, resulting in him being suspended by England until January.
His recurring groin complaint would have prevented him from appearing at the World Cup anyway and during the summer he visited family in Samoa with Cockerill revealing that he returned 16kg heavier – extra weight he has since lost.
An end to the rehabilitation appears to be in sight and he will be cautiously reintroduced into the team when he is ready.
Tuilagi was one of four players to sign new deals on Monday, joining Ben Youngs, Freddie Burns and Ed Slater in committing his future to Welford Road as Leicester continue to build an impressive squad.
Former South Africa captain Jean de Villiers will start his season-long spell at the club when he has recovered from his broken jaw around the New Year, while Australia centre Matt Toomua will arrive next summer.
“We’re big hitters in the game. We get criticised a bit that we’re not always in the marketplace for marquee players,” Cockerill said.
“But the four who have re-signed are all marquee players and if they went somewhere else, they certainly would be.”