Rugby League: Wigan sign Renouf at last

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The Independent Online
IN A late change of direction reminiscent of his own incisive centre play, Steve Renouf has signed after all for Wigan.

The Brisbane Bronco and Australian international, who turned Wigan down earlier this week, has now agreed a two-year contract worth an estimated pounds 400,000. "He is a truly world-class player joining the best club in the world," Peter Norbury, the Wigan chairman, said.

The 29-year-old Renouf had rejected Wigan's previous offer earlier this week but changed his mind after a friend offered to look after the family's unusual collection of pets.

"They have a house on 50 acres and his wife Melissa has a camel, a sheep, a deer and a goat and they are all hand fed," Barry Collins, Renouf's agent, said. "When we were talking to Wigan, they couldn't get anybody to look after the pets. But since then a couple of things have fallen into place. A good friend said he would look after the house and animals and that made Melissa happy.

"He rang me and asked me to find out if the offer was still on the table so I got back to Wigan and re-activated the deal. Steve signed it right away."

The Wigan coach, Andy Goodway, said. "We are always looking for world- class players and we're delighted to have him in our squad."

Renouf, who will arrive with his wife and four children next January, has been an outstanding performer for Brisbane, Queensland and Australia for the best part of a decade. His recruitment recalls that of players like Brett Kenny and Gene Miles to the club and gives them the high-profile figure they need in order to generate enthusiasm for their move to the 25,000-seater JJB Stadium next year.

Wigan will not necessarily have to shed one of their overseas players to make way for Renouf, as Tony Mestrov comes off the quota next season. Two of their Australian backs, however, take a step back for tonight's game at Castleford. Goodway has relegated Danny Moore to the bench and left out Greg Florimo altogether, opting instead to play Tony Smith at stand-off against his old club, outside the new signing, Gavin Clinch, who made a fine debut against Halifax on Sunday.

Leeds - made favourites after Renouf's signing to capture Keith Senior from Sheffield - give a debut to their 19-year-old hooker, Andy Speak, against Huddersfield tonight, because Terry Newton and Lee Jackson are injured.

Ironically, news of Renouf's signing comes as Super League clubs have agreed on a squeeze on their salary cap for next season. In future, clubs will only be allowed to spend pounds 700,000 or half their annual earnings, whichever is the higher, on players' contracts, as opposed to the present limit of pounds 1m. The innovation means that no club can register more than 20 players whose basic contract is for more than pounds 20,000.

"It means that Super League's elite athletes will still be well rewarded," Maurice Lindsay, the organisation's managing director, said. "At the same time there will be more opportunities for young British players to prosper."