The Western Force have swept in to sign playmaker Hamish Stewart on a two-year deal in a move that is set to ruffle the feathers of the Queensland Reds.
The Reds were left fuming last month when the Melbourne Rebels made a play for Stewart. Queensland claimed they had sealed a binding agreement with Stewart to keep him at the Reds for 2023, and they asked Rugby Australia to investigate the Rebels' bid to sign him.
The Rebels were keen to secure the 24-year-old following the departure of Matt Toomua. But the Force announced on Friday that they have signed Stewart for the next two Super Rugby Pacific seasons.
Stewart's arrival is an important boost for the Force, who were dealt a huge blow last week when flyhalf Reesjan Pasitoa suffered a serious knee injury that will keep him out for most of next season.
New Western Force coach Simon Cron was Stewart's coach with the Australian Under 20s side. Stewart, who can also play at inside centre or fullback, hopes he can help propel the Force into the finals.
"Obviously, we want to go to finals so hopefully we get that finals berth and go all the way through to win," Stewart said.
"I'm really looking forward to it and experiencing the Sea of Blue. The comradery of the players with the crowd always adds atmosphere.
"It will be great to reconnect with some of the guys I used to play with at the Reds too. I haven't played with them for a couple of years, so it will be good to relight the candle and put our best foot forward."
General manager of rugby Matt Hodgson described Stewart as a humble man who would suit the team's culture.
"Hamish brings a broad skillset and breadth of experience that adds a new dimension to our backline," Hodgson said.
"He's a tough and youthful competitor who has a great understanding of the game having played consistently since his debut."
The Reds confirmed Stewart's release with a sly shot at the Rebels as they deal with salary cap pressure
"The Western Force made the request through the appropriate channels. They had a need with some injuries and departing inside backs," Reds GM of Rugby Sam Cordingley added.
“We have good depth at centre and some salary cap pressure with a large contingent of national players, so this is a good result for all parties.
“We’d like to thank Hamish for his commitment to Queensland Rugby over the past six years and we wish him all the very best with his move west.”