Joe Picker. Photo: Colleen Petch
It's a rugby league reunion almost a decade in the making.
South Sydney coach Michael Maguire has given former Raiders back-rower Joe Picker an NRL lifeline, 10 years after first coaching him as an ACT schoolboy rep.
But Maguire doused rumours the Rabbitohs were also looking to revive the NRL career of sacked Raiders centre Blake Ferguson.
Maguire's playing career at Canberra was cut short by a broken neck in 1998, but he remembers with admiration a determined Picker, the 15-year-old told he may never play again because of fused discs in his spine.
Maguire said Picker's attitude, and the experience of 110 NRL matches with the Raiders, would be an asset to the Bunnies, who have lost Michael Crocker, Roy Asotasi, Jeff Lima, Nathan Peats and Josh Starling from their pack.
''We enjoyed some time together when I first started coaching in the juniors at schoolboy level in Canberra, ever since then I've been watching his career develop,'' Maguire said.
''That was the biggest thing I saw in him as a young kid, his willingness and dedication. He's a determined kid, hopefully this provides him with an opportunity to develop his game and become the player he wants to be.
''It was a long time ago, but we always wanted to work together again at some stage.''
Picker was distraught to be cut from the Raiders at season's end and contemplated retirement, but Maguire felt the change could restart the 25-year-old's career.
''He's played a lot of games of first grade, I really wanted to bolster our squad,'' he said. ''I think a change is generally great, hopefully he can work hard and give himself the best opportunity.''
Maguire was dismissive of rumours linking Ferguson with a possible switch to the Rabbitohs.
''I don't know where that comes from, I've heard more of that rumour than any other,'' he said.
Meanwhile, the Raiders have ruled out a play at former Origin and Test back-rower Luke O'Donnell, despite signing his 23-year-old brother Kyle to a one-year deal from Penrith.
There is speculation Luke O'Donnell could be squeezed out of the premiership-winning Roosters because of salary-cap constraints, but Raiders recruitment manager David Hamilton said the club would not pursue him.
Kyle O'Donnell played his only NRL match for the Newcastle Knights last year and the Panthers will pay half of his second-tier contract at the Raiders, making him a bargain buy.
In other news, Manly are growing more confident that a match against the Raiders will go ahead in China next year, and the NRL is expected to make a ruling on the fixture next month.