Having recently been accused of tightening their purse strings to the detriment of the club by former coach Rob Penney, the Waratahs have finally managed to lure some talent back to New South Wales.

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According to a report from the Sydney Morning Herald, 25-cap Wallabies utility forward Ned Hanigan has agreed to join the Waratahs ahead of the 2021 season following a six-month stint playing in the second division of Japan’s Top League.

The 25-year-old parted ways with the club following last year’s Super Rugby AU competition but hung around Australia long enough to play five test matches under Dave Rennie.

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Hanigan wasn’t the only high-profile departure from the club, however, with the likes of Michael Hooper and Kurtley Beale gone from this year’s squad – although Hooper is also set to return to the side for next season.

Their absences, coupled with the losses of Bernard Foley, Nick Phipps and Rob Simmons following the 2019 Rugby World Cup, have left the Waratahs with an exceptionally green squad.

While there are plenty of promising and up and coming players on the books, including former Under 20 stars Angus Bell, Will Harrison and Mark Nawaqanitawase, their lack of experience has shown at times over the past one and a half campaigns, with the Waratahs now winless from their six matches to date in 2021.

Despite Hanigan’s likely arrival in Australia falling in May, the lock-cum-flanker won’t be available for the Waratahs at any stage this year – including during the upcoming Super Rugby Trans-Tasman competition. He will, however, be immediately available for selection in the Wallabies, should Rennie choose to bring him back into the fold.

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Hanigan’s return next year should help sure up the Waratahs forward pack, which is excellent news for fans of the NSW side but will be of zero consolation to Rob Penney, who was sacked following last week’s loss to the Reds.

Penney joined the club as head coach at the beginning of 2020 but faced speedbump after speedbump in his one and a half seasons with the team.

The Kiwi was openly critical of the New South Wales board following his dismissal, suggesting that he’d been made a scapegoat for a raft of poor decisions that were outside of his control.

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Chief among them was the fact that management had tightened their purse strings to better prepare the club for a post-COVID world. Meanwhile, the other Australian sides were able to bolster their squads to the detriment of the Waratahs, leaving Penney with the inexperienced side that he tried to get the best out of.

Bringing Ned Hanigan back to NSW is the first piece of serious recruiting that the club has done – but it’s a net-zero gain.

Waratahs fans will be hopeful that Hanigan’s return is a sign of things to come, however, and that the club may at least be able to put up a fight next season.

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