The NSW Waratahs’ priority is to retain Wallabies stars Berrick Barnes and Wycliff Palu after seemingly nabbing Test halfback Nick Phipps from the Melbourne Rebels.
NSW captain Dave Dennis on Wednesday all but confirmed Australian rugby’s worst-kept secret when he said the acquisition of Phipps would “add a lot to us next year” after the ARU inadvertently announced the No.9’s impending move on its website on Tuesday.
Waratahs coach Michael Cheika was more coy, saying “they know it sooner than I do then” when told the ARU’s news release about Phipps briefly appeared online.
“Well, I don’t know,” Cheika said.
“I can’t talk about ifs. Once I know what’s happening officially from my end, then I can talk about that stuff.
“For us at the moment, the big thing is about retention. We’ve got several players – Berrick Barnes, Palu etc – who are in the middle. They’re not sure if they’re going away or not sure what’s happening.
“Once I know about that, I can start looking at recruitment.”
Barnes admitted he was still weighing up his options but wished the Waratahs luck in signing Phipps, whose move to Sydney could lead to former NSW halfback Luke Burgess ending up at the Rebels if granted a release from French side Toulouse on compassionate grounds.
“If he (Phipps) is coming, I’m not sure. But if he is, great. It’s good for the boys,” Barnes told AAP.
“I don’t know if I’ll be here to see it, but it’s a good thing for NSW as a state here and what Cheik is trying to do here.
“If Cheik wants him, he’s got him. Good on him and it’s good for the team.
“But this year it doesn’t matter. We’ve got three nines who are giving their bloody all.”
While his immediate focus is on getting NSW’s 2013 campaign back on track after losses to the Queensland Reds and Brumbies, Dennis is hoping former Waratahs backline ace Kurtley Beale may also follow Phipps from the Rebels to Sydney.
“Kurtley obviously grew up in NSW and spent a bit of time here and performed well here,” Dennis said.
“So if he were to come back, it would be great news for the club.
“Nick will add a lot to us next year, but we’ve got to trust in the guys who are here at the moment and get the job done this year and worry about that.”