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Cannon first to sign with Perth

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Wallaby hooker Brendan Cannon became the first player to join Perth’s Super 14 team on Tuesday, signing a two-year contract with the new franchise.

The announcement of Cannon’s defection from the Super 12-leading New South Wales Waratahs prompted an angry tirade from NSW coach Ewan McKenzie, who denounced the mid-season “recruitment sideshow” being run by the Western Australia (WA) rugby union.

Cannon, who celebrated his 32nd birthday on Tuesday, has 30 Test caps and 80 Super 12 caps but has been forced to play off the Waratahs bench this year behind fellow Wallaby Adam Freier.

He said the chance to play for the new WA team when the Super 12 competition expands to a 14-team tournament next year was an opportunity he couldn’t turn down.

“The comfortable decision would have been to stay in NSW. The challenging option is the unique opportunity to be a founding member of the WA team in a key leadership role,” Cannon said.

“To be a foundation member of this team, under the stewardship of (former All Blacks coach) John Mitchell, in a fantastic city like Perth, it is an opportunity that was just too good to refuse,” he said.

“I was very impressed by John Mitchell’s presentation and program, his vision for the new team and his reputation and record as a coach.

“Establishing a Super 14 team in Western Australia is one of the most exciting developments in Australian Rugby since the game went professional in 1996, so it is great to be a part of it.”

Waratahs’ coach Ewen McKenzie reacted furiously to what he called a “recruitment sideshow” from Perth as it sought to sign players from existing Super 12 teams in the middle of the seaon.

“This is unprecedented,” McKenzie said in a press release.

“These announcements usually happen out of season but now we find ourselves having to host a press conference for another side while preparing for a critical game against the Hurricanes,” he said.

But McKenzie went on to say that Perth’s recruitment drive would not distract the Waratahs, who are currently on top of the Super 12 ladder.

“We’ve got a pretty strong resolve within this year’s squad and I’m confident we can see off Perth’s recruitment side show during this important period,” he said.

Mitchell was delighted at reeling in Cannon, just one of a number of Wallabies said to be negotiating a possible jump to Perth.

“He is a genuine team leader, and will bring a lot of experience and maturity to Western Australia’s new team,” Mitchell said.

“There are plenty of young players considering moving to Perth who will be very keen to learn from players of the calibre of Brendan Cannon,” he said.

“He will play a vital part in the team’s leadership and is sure to make an outstanding contribution.

Players in talks with the new franchise include Wallaby and Brumbies South African-born center Clyde Rathbone, Wallaby lock Nathan Sharpe and Queensland Reds wing Ben Tune.

Despite his anger over the timing of Tuesday’s announcement, McKenzie wished Cannon luck in Perth and said he would remain fully part of the Waratahs for the rest of the season.

“He’s made his decision, but he’s still employed by the Waratahs and his work is far from over in 2005 because we need all hands on deck to negotiate this next phase of the competition,” he said.

“We don’t expect to keep everyone but we are well down the track to where we want to be in terms of next year’s squad.”

Rugby WA said Cannon would relocate from Sydney to Perth in September or October for training ahead of the 2006 season.

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