Reds sign wayward O'Connor, code-hopper Hunt

Australian winger James O'Connor during the team's final training session at Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane on September 06, 2013
Australian winger James O'Connor during the team's final training session at Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane on September 06, 2013 (AFP Photo/Patrick Hamilton)

Brisbane (Australia) (AFP) - Troubled international James O'Connor and code-hopping star Karmichael Hunt have signed for Queensland Reds, the team said Friday, in a boost for the struggling side and putting both players in the frame for next year's World Cup.

O'Connor, 24, unwanted by other Australian provinces, returns after spending a year overseas with London Irish following divisive Super Rugby spells with the Western Force and Melbourne Rebels.

The wayward back departs French champions Toulon to jump back immediately on Test coach Ewen McKenzie's radar for the World Cup in England.

O'Connor, who played for the Wallabies against the British and Irish Lions last year, was dumped from the national team in 2013 and had his contract torn up by the Australian Rugby Union for repeated discipline breaches.

These culminated in him being preventing from taking a flight because he was allegedly drunk, hours after Australia beat Argentina in a Rugby Championship match in Perth.

Queensland Rugby Union chief executive Jim Carmichael, who confirmed O'Connor had signed in May, conceded there was a "risk" in signing the talented, 44-Test utility.

"There's risk in everything in life," Carmichael said. "And where I sit at the moment, I'm very confident that he'll thrive in our environment."

Queensland also revealed the surprise signing of explosive Kiwi-born Japan back-rower Hendrik Tui, who has been capped 25 teams by the Asian champions and joins from Japanese Top League Suntory.

O'Connor, who can play in any position across the backline, has been signed for two seasons by the Reds, who are looking to improve significantly on this season's woeful 13th place in Super Rugby.

"It's great to be coming home. Look, I'm a Queensland boy through and through," O'Connor said. "I also think it is a place where I can be nurtured and really fulfil my potential in Australian rugby."

Hunt, 27, switches to rugby after spending four seasons playing Australian Rules with the Gold Coast Suns and following rugby stints with Biarritz Olympique and Toulon in France.

He made his name in a five-season career in the National Rugby League with the Brisbane Broncos.

Hunt, who played 11 rugby league Tests with Australia and 10 State of Origin games for Queensland, joins the Reds on a three-year deal and played junior rugby in Brisbane.

Reds coach Richard Graham said changes were imperative after a difficult 2014 season.

"We’ve been working hard behind the scenes to find the right balance for the 2015 squad and beyond," Graham said.

"Tonight's announcement reflects that, with some new signings and some important familiar faces.

"We realise our performances on the field this year were not good enough and believe we have put together the right squad to achieve our goals."