Force deny O'Connor rumours
The Western Force have denied suggestions James O'Connor will be unveiled on Monday as the Melbourne Rebels' second massive signing in a few days.
Hot on the heels of NSW Waratahs playmaker Kurtley Beale signing with Melbourne on Thursday, reports have emerged that 20-year-old O'Connor has also put pen to paper with the Victorian side.
But a Force spokesperson claimed the speculation was wide of the mark, and said: "The Melbourne Rebels have said these reports are 100% inaccurate and we agree."
Force coach Richard Graham believes the offer the club have put to O'Connor was good enough to entice him to stay in Perth.
"I am confident that we can retain James," Graham said this morning ahead of the team travelling to Canberra. "We've presented a good program to him for the last four years and he's an important part of our squad at the moment. I'd like to think he'd stay with us."
If the reports are correct, however it would be a major blow for the Force, who handed the Queensland-born talent a debut at 17 in the 2008 season and he has since featured in 32 matches for the Perth-based outfit.
Former Wallaby and Force hooker Brendan Cannon said O'Connor departing would be a massive blow to future recruitment at the struggling club, who are currently last in the Australian conference.
"He's someone that they've fostered and harnessed out of school, he's someone they were looking to build future sides around," Cannon told Fox Sports.
"He's a superstar...every game he's played at fly-half or full-back for the Force he's been one of their best players. If they do lose him it would be an enormous blow. It would make the Western Force's task for future years of recruiting players really, really challenging if they lose a guy like James O'Connor."
If O'Connor did join the Rebels, it would give them arguably the most exciting backline in Super Rugby in 2012, joining Beale, English playmaker Danny Cipriani, Mark Gerrard, Stirling Mortlock and half-back Nick Phipps, who staved off interest from the Waratahs to re-sign with Melbourne for the next two years.