The St.George Queensland Reds have locked away three key members of their future with prop James Slipper, flanker Liam Gill and lock Rob Simmons re-signing with Queensland Rugby until at least the end of 2015.
The Reds trio have all inked new two-year deals where they will play an integral role in the continued success of Queensland Rugby and for Australia in the lead-up to the Rugby World Cup in 2015.
As a group, the three young Reds forwards boast a combined 154 caps for Queensland, along with 73 for Australia, and have been influential in the team’s recent success where they have qualified for a third straight Super Rugby Finals Series.
“James, Liam and Rob are not only very talented players but also great individuals that are passionate about Queensland and what we want to achieve here,” Reds Head Coach Richard Graham said.
“To secure their services for a further two seasons is significant for our Rugby program and they’ll have major roles to play as we move forward together as a group.
“They’re all leaders in their own right with James having captained the Reds, Liam having captained the Australian Under 20s and Rob being given ownership of running our lineout in Queensland.
“I congratulate all three on their decision to remain in Queensland and wish them all the best for the next stage of their careers.”
Slipper celebrated his milestone 50th game for Queensland in the team’s 14-12 Templeton Cup triumph over the Waratahs at the weekend and has now captained the Reds on five occasions in 2013.
His efforts come after a stellar 2012 campaign which ended with Slipper becoming just the second prop in Queensland Rugby history to win the team’s Pilecki Medal for Players’ Player – also breaking the record for the highest number of votes in a singular season.
Among his many qualities Slipper’s durability has been a major asset, playing in every game over the past two seasons, while he has also excelled on a national level with the Wallabies, representing Australia on 37 occasions since his debut against England in 2010.
The remarkable success story of that year, Slipper went from QAS Academy squad member and Super Rugby debutant to play all but one of the Wallabies’ Tests by the end of the season.
“What we’ve achieved at the Reds over the past few years has been special,” Slipper said.
“It’s a privilege to train with and play with the group of guys we have here and the setup we have in place will also ensure we can maintain the same level of success in coming years. That’s exciting.
“There is a very good culture and I’m really looking forward to what is in store over the next two years. Not only do I love playing for Queensland, but also with my teammates here and that was a major motivation to re-sign.
“The World Cup coming up is also a major influence and you want to be a part of that. I feel playing for the Reds gives me the best opportunity to do that.”
Simmons is the most experienced of the trio having represented Queensland on 64 occasions and, like Slipper, has proven to be incredibly durable, not missing a Super Rugby game during the past three seasons.
With superlative size, speed, and ball-handling, Simmons had his breakthrough year in 2010, earning his first starting appearance for the Reds – after debuting off the bench against the Bulls in 2009 – before rapidly earning a Test debut in front of a home crowd against the Springboks at Suncorp Stadium later that year.
A consistent performer for both the Reds and the Wallabies, Simmons earned 16 Test Caps during the 2010 and 2011 Test seasons and featured in six of the seven games during the 2011 World Cup.
He has continued to cement his place in the green and gold and was a key member of Australia’s recent tour against The British & Irish Lions.
“Staying in Queensland is what I always wanted to do and I’ve got aspirations here and also for the Wallabies,” Simmons said.
“It all comes down to the culture. There are a lot of guys who take pay cuts to stay in Queensland and that’s a credit to this squad.
“That’s the reason I want to stay, it feels like a family to me, and I’m confident we’ve got the systems in place to be successful for a long time.”
Gill is the youngest of the trio at 21 although is regarded as one of the best breakdown scavengers in world Rugby, having already represented Queensland on 40 occasions despite his young age.
It has been a remarkable rise to fame for Gill who earned his first provincial cap at 19 years of age before going on to win a Super Rugby championship and debut for the Wallabies against the All Blacks only a year later.
His selection for Australia came following a standout year where he finished the Super Rugby year with a competition-high 33 turnovers, including 26 breakdown or tackle steals. He was the only Australian to average more than 2 breakdown or tackle steals per game (2.4).
He also demonstrated enormous leadership qualities for a player of his age and was given the honour of captaining the Australian Under 20s at the 2012 Junior World Championships in South Africa, in his third campaign.
“I’ve very excited and relieved that I’ve got the chance to stay in Queensland,” Gill said.
“I didn’t negotiate anywhere else because this is the place I want to be, so I’m glad to say that I’m signed on for another two years.
“We’ve had three very successful seasons under Ewen and now Richard will be our Head Coach for the next two years. We’ve got a taste of that this year and I’m excited about why lies ahead for this team.
“We’ve also got a great bunch of blokes here and I get along with them both on and off the field. It’s a real honour to play under the Queensland badge and alongside a lot of great players at the club.”