Ulster Rugby: Ricky Lutton and Ricky Andrew rewarded with full-time deals
Two of Ulster's most promising players have been upgraded to the status of full-time professionals.
They are tight-head prop Ricky Lutton and full-back Ricky Andrew, who have signed two-year and 12-month contracts respectively.
For 28-year-old Lutton, the offer of a full-time position is his reward after two years as a development player.
His route to this level has been different to that taken by most of his Ulster colleagues. An Oxford University graduate, he won three Blues, which include having been a Varsity match victor in 2008. After university he headed for the southern hemisphere, where he continued playing rugby in Australia and New Zealand.
When he returned home in 2011, he joined Belfast Harlequins, in whose colours he impressed sufficiently to earn himself an Ulster Ravens call-up.
He signed a development contract at the start of last season and to date he has turned out for Ulster's seniors on 21 occasions, 14 of those this season. And with John Afoa currently ruled out by a back injury, Lutton is in line for further appearances before the curtain comes down on 2013-14.
"I am absolutely delighted," was his response after putting pen to paper.
"Being born and raised here it has always been my dream to play for Ulster and to have been able to do that over the past two seasons has been great. Now to have the opportunity to do it for two more years is absolutely brilliant."
In contrast, the other Ricky – 24-year-old Andrew – is the latest home-grown player to have come through via the Hughes Insurance Ulster Academy.
To date, the young Ballymena man has played 16 senior games for the province, his debut having been against Leinster at the RDS on Boxing Day 2011, an evening when Brian McLaughlin's inexperienced young side went down 42-13.
"I am extremely pleased to have signed a full professional contract. It is what I have been working for over the past six years," the full-back said.
"I have lots of good friends in the team and it is great to be playing now with the likes of Andrew Warwick and Luke Marshall who I went to school with.
"To be part of Ulster Rugby is absolutely fantastic and my aim is to keep learning and to keep contributing to the team."
Expressing his satisfaction at having signed the pair, the province's Director of Rugby David Humphreys said: "These are two talented players, from Ulster, who through hard work and dedication have become important members of our squad.
"I am delighted that they have signed full-time professional contracts and I have no doubt that they will play significant roles in Ulster's future success."