Rooney's arrival point to a new attitude in the NPC

July 8, 2010

Former Aussie league star Luke Rooney's decision to head to Napier is further proof of changing attitudes to provincial unions, say Hawke's Bay rugby bosses.

The 27-year-old has added his name to a Magpies roster that coach Peter Russell now believes is stronger than any others during his four-year tenure.

Rooney, who can cover wing, fullback and centre, joins halfback Kahn Fotuali'i, first-five Dan Kirkpatrick, and prop Anthony Perenise as the new additions to Hawke's Bay's NPC squad.

Most surprisingly, the union, after years of begging players to move to Napier, did not even make a call to bring the six-test Kangaroos league international to New Zealand.

"No, we were approached by his agent," Hawke's Bay union chief executive Mike Bishop said yesterday.

"We have nurtured quite a bit of talent over the years and the squad is experienced with a lot of talent, but Luke's agent rang asking if we needed outside backs and he's not the type of player you turn away."

Rooney, who has been playing for Toulon, wants to sharpen his skills for next year's Super 15, where he will play for the Melbourne Rebels.

So why aren't they heading to Wellington, Auckland, or, like Rooney's former Toulon teammate, Sonny Bill Williams, to Canterbury?

Russell believes the perception of provinces like Hawke's Bay, Taranaki, Southland and Bay of Plenty has changed in the past two or three years.

"I think the non-franchise unions are playing some good rugby and have a good culture and atmosphere and that's where they want to go," he said.

"They have more opportunities to start, whereas if they go to the big unions they might be second or third there and you can't really show your wares because other players are in front of you."

The elevation of Israel Dagg and Zac Guildford to the All Blacks encouraged young players to stay with Hawke's Bay, he said.

"I think it is [a better team than last year]. We said after we got embarrassed by Canterbury in that semifinal that we needed another 5 to 10 per cent. What were the key positions we needed? We did a lot of planning really and it's paying off."

Hawke's Bay aren't the only province outside the Super rugby base unions to bolster their squads, with Kurt Baker, Andre Taylor and George Pisi and David Smith heading to Taranaki for game time.

Bishop did not think the lowering of the NPC salary cap this year was behind recent movements, but believed it would increase the trend in coming years.

"With the reduction of the cap I think a lot of unions are going to be close to it, that's a fact of life."

Magpies At A Glance

New recruits: Luke Rooney, Anthony Perenise, Kahn Fotuali'i, Dan Kirkpatrick. Established names: Israel Dagg, Zac Guildford, Karl Lowe, Clint Newland, Hika Elliot, Bryn Evans.

Gone: Thomas Waldrom (Leicester), George Naoupu (Ireland), Matt Berquist (Auckland).