Ulster legend Stephen Ferris has backed new signing Leone Nakarawa to potentially take the province's style of play to a new level.
"He is an awesome player," said Ferris of the Fijian forward, who can play lock or back-row and will join Ulster next season from Glasgow Warriors.
"Nakarawa's off-loading skills and his carrying ability will fit perfectly into what Dan McFarland's been trying to build.
"And his off-loading is just outrageous," he added of the 32-year-old Fiji international, who has signed a one-year deal.
"You can expect the unexpected when he's playing," Ferris said of the former European Player of the Year.
Though Nakarawa is no stranger to controversy - he was sacked by French giants Racing 92 in December 2019 after failing to return on time after the World Cup - Ferris maintains that his signature is still a good piece of business for McFarland, who previously coached him at Glasgow.
"It's maybe a bit left-field and I think the one-year contract reflects that," said Ferris of a player who has also recently battled with long-standing injury issues.
"But looking at how he's played at Racing or Glasgow over the years, you let him do his thing, but he'll fit into systems."
It remains unclear whether Nakarawa is a straight overseas replacement for the departing back-rower Marcell Coetzee or is potentially coming in for second-row Sam Carter.
Ulster’s capture of Nakarawa comes after the province were believed to be one of several interested parties regarding fellow Fijian Bill Mata, though the 29-year-old back-rower is going nowhere after having recently committed to a new contract extension at Edinburgh.
Nevertheless, bringing Nakarawa to Kingspan Stadium is still a considerable coup for Ulster, and with McFarland’s emphasis on speed and skills, the player who won Olympic gold at Rio in the Sevens looks a good fit.
“I think the way Ulster are trying to play, the way Marcell Coetzee trucks it up, we’ve seen against big opposition and in the big games that doesn’t necessarily work for you,” Ferris stated.
“But he (Nakarawa) has got a different skill-set.
“He’s a typical south sea islander but he’s really good at carrying and passing the ball in one hand and has a lot of confidence in doing that.”
The Fijian debuted for Glasgow back in 2013 and was part of the squad which narrowly defeated Ulster in 2015’s then PRO12 semi-final before going on to then triumph over Munster when he was awarded man of the match in the final in Belfast.
Nakarawa joined Racing in 2016 and returned to Glasgow in January 2020 after his contract was terminated by the Paris club. He had only just returned to playing after a lengthy knee injury.
McFarland said: “It’s an exciting time for Leone to be making the move to Ulster for the upcoming season as we look to continue to build on our ambitions as a squad.
“Given his broad skill-set and experience, I’m confident that he’ll be a valuable addition to the team.”
Meanwhile, hooker Rob Herring and out-half Ian Madigan have become the latest Ulster squad members to sign two-year contract extensions.
Though the pandemic will have had an impact on the amounts on offer — as is the case with players having attractive opportunities elsewhere — having the experience of Herring and Madigan still on the books for another two years can only be beneficial for the province.
Thirty-year-old Herring has been at Ulster since 2012 and has made 190 appearances for the province, as well as winning 16 Ireland caps and currently being the national side’s frontline hooker.
Herring said: “We’re working hard to make memories and win silverware for the province and that’s definitely something I want to be a part of for as long as I can.”
Madigan, who is 31, joined Ulster last summer and the former Leinster, Bordeaux and Bristol player, with 30 caps for Ireland behind him, has brought massive experience and match-winning temperament to the squad.
Skipper Iain Henderson has yet to commit his future to Ulster and Ireland but it is thought likely that he will stay on.
Henderson is believed to be one of a number of frontline and centrally contracted Ireland players whose deals expire at the end of this season, with the others thought to be Johnny Sexton, Cian Healy, Peter O’Mahony, Keith Earls, Tadhg Furlong and CJ Stander.