Richard Cockerill says Manu Tuilagi's new Leicester deal is 'worth the gamble'
Leicester director of rugby Richard Cockerill insists Manu Tuilagi is "worth the gamble" after making the England centre the Aviva 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 £425,000 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.
"We've supported him and he's been very loyal, both before now and now. We have to support people through these injury situations. Sometimes it's about how you as a club behave towards players in these times.
"We like to think that we do that reasonably well and you have to have some faith. I've no doubt Manu will repay that faith by how he plays."
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 2.5stones 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.
"Manu's started to reintegrate back into rugby training. He's looking pretty good. He's had no adverse reaction to that, so all the indications are good," Cockerill said.
"He's doing the units training with the backs. He's just returned to contact and it has been quite interesting seeing him run into people for the first time.
"It's been good to see that hunger and desire having been away so long and there being no adverse reactions.
"We're just building up his load, so his tolerance is good. January's not that far away, so you'd like to think that in the next few weeks he'll be getting somewhere near playing.
"We've got to this point, it's been long enough. The corner has been turned. He won't go from nothing to playing straight for 80 minutes."
Cockerill refuses to place the RBS 6 Nations on Tuilagi's radar.
"Let's just get him back on the field and playing. The Six Nations is not at the forefront of his or my mind. My objective isn't getting Manu fit so that he can play for England," he said.
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."