Brumbies first training
The ACT Brumbies' first training session of 2014. Photo: Jeffrey Chan
The ACT Brumbies will ramp up contract negotiations this month as they begin a bold bid to keep their off-contract stars in Canberra. But the Super Rugby grand finalists will contend with a new Australian Rugby Union contract system, which looms as the biggest threat to the Brumbies' hopes of retaining their squad.
The Brumbies returned to training at the University of Canberra on Monday to start preparations for the Super Rugby season-opener on February 22.
The team's focus is firmly on beating the Queensland Reds in their first match.
But coach Stephen Larkham will start piecing together his squad for the future with five Wallabies searching for new deals and several Brumbies off contract at the end of the season.
The ARU is implementing a new contract structure, under which the ARU will determine how much Super Rugby players are worth and set the price for franchises.
It limits the bidding war between Australian teams but, with the Brumbies boasting a dozen Wallabies representatives, it will put extra pressure on their salary cap. In the past, Super Rugby and ARU deals have been negotiated separately.
Wallabies Scott Fardy, Matt Toomua, Christian Lealiifano, Scott Sio and Jesse Mogg will all be hoping for new contracts as well as a host of Super Rugby regulars.
Fardy was unfazed by the looming contract negotiations and reiterated his intention was to stay in Canberra.
The 29-year-old had his first sessions with the Brumbies on Monday after a breakout 2013 campaign, during which he made his Wallabies debut and played 10 Tests. Unknown two years ago, a bearded Fardy has a cult following and joked it was ''nice to be wanted for a change''.
''Nothing has changed, it's all just the same for me,'' Fardy said.
''It's nice to be wanted but I'm not too fussed. It's a long season and when things happen, they'll happen. I just want to take my time and do the right thing by everyone.
''I feel like I'm ready to go again and I was keen to get back to have a session with the boys.''
Wallabies trio Ben Alexander, Stephen Moore and Lealiifano are the only players who are not back on the field.
Alexander and Moore will return next week while Lealiifano is recovering from ankle surgery and will be out of action until March.
Skipper Ben Mowen is back at training despite playing almost every minute of every Super Rugby game and Test last season.
Director of rugby Laurie Fisher said there would be ''no mindless running'' in pre-season training.
The Brumbies will play their first trial match against the Otago Highlanders in Queenstown on January 31 but Wallabies players will be rested.
''Our progress will be rapid from here,'' Fisher said. ''Our game has scope for improvement - we're not looking to be too different in  but we need a little more pace, power and accuracy.''
Fisher, who is also the Brumbies' forwards coach, said Fardy had met every challenge thrown at him since the ACT recruited him from Japan.
''I'm yet to see him [do] anything other [than] deliver a good performance … I don't see that being any different this year,'' Fisher said. ''He's a super important part of the Brumbies system and culture.
''We definitely want to keep him and we'll do everything we can to do that.''