Three more important signatures have been added to Taranaki's playing roster, although three vital figures still remain off the union's books.
All Blacks lock Jarrad Hoeata, Highlanders fullback Kurt Baker and Hurricanes wider training group member Jackson Ormond have all agreed to various terms with Taranaki.
Baker has signed until the end of 2014, Ormond through until the end of 2013, while Hoeata will play next year before deciding on his future.
The trio's commitment brings an almost complete look to the 2012 squad, although captain Craig Clarke, former All Blacks lock and Taranaki player of the year Jason Eaton, and Samoa captain Mahonri Schwalger, are yet to sign.
"Hoeata was quite crucial to us because we could lose Eaton and Clarke or one of them," Tenderlink Taranaki coach Colin Cooper said yesterday.
"If we had all three of them off contract, it would have been concerning. Thankfully we've got Jarrad and hopefully we can get the other two. They just need time to look at all their options and we're happy to give them all the time they need."
Schwalger, too, would be afforded time to sort out his situation, which looks dependent on the Chiefs offering him an extension beyond the one-year deal they have in place now. The experienced hooker has told Cooper he wants to return.
Cooper was very much looking on the positive side yesterday, pointing out that Baker's signature allows the coaching staff to put some long-term planning in place, especially with first five-eighth Beauden Barrett also committed until the end of 2013.
"If you can secure quality players, then other quality players want to be part of it," he said.
Baker, 23, said the decision to stay with Taranaki was based largely on wanting some career stability.
He didn't see the point of looking elsewhere when he was more than happy with the way things were progressing after his switch from Manawatu in 2009.
"It's more a peace of mind thing and I don't think there is any reason to go anywhere else," he said. "I think I can make it to where I want to be from Taranaki."
Dogged by a back injury that took him out of the 2011 Super Rugby season, Baker said he was now over it and looking to improve on this year's work for Taranaki. His form suffered, he felt, through a shoulder problem he picked up in the season opener against Wellington. He maintains he has an appetite for provincial rugby, even though his Highlanders campaign will dominate his 2012 season.
"Other players might be different but I enjoy getting back to the local stuff because people appreciate you more there, it's a bit more personal."
Cooper felt Ormond's signature was also important long term, especially with the coach's view that he could cover a multitude of positions, in time.
"I see him covering wing, fullback and centre," he said. "Some people might question centre but he's got all the attributes – he's a good ball carrier, he's got kicking options and the most important thing is the way he understands defence systems."
While the Taranaki roster looks close to being finalised, Cooper said the "window is always left open" for injuries and developing more depth.
The first goal remained finding that talent within Taranaki, he said, although the union welcomed any player wanting to try to break into the rep squad, providing they were prepared to go through the club competition.
- Taranaki Daily News
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