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Graham forces his way back to Reds

Date

Justin Chadwick, Jim Morton

The Queensland Reds will boast the equivalent of a coaching dream team next season after the shock decision of Richard Graham to quit his Super Rugby post at the Western Force.

Graham will see out the season with the Force before taking up the head coaching gig at Queensland, with Reds' title-winning coach Ewen McKenzie to move into a director of coaching role.

While Graham's decision is a major boost for Queensland rugby, it comes at a sensitive time for the Force, who are desperately trying to re-sign out-of-contract flanker David Pocock.

McKenzie will spend one year in the director of coaching role before making the transition to Queensland Rugby's inaugural director of rugby position in 2014 and beyond.

Although the QRU's plans have been six months in the making, the latest movements will no doubt spark speculation McKenzie is priming himself for a move into the Wallabies' coaching ranks as early as next year.

Just last week, Australian Rugby Union boss John O'Neill declared McKenzie as the obvious successor to current Wallabies coach Robbie Deans, whose future beyond 2013 remains up in the air.

McKenzie will work closely with Graham next year to ensure the 39-year-old's smooth transition.

In 2014, McKenzie will turn his attention to more broader issues, including the redevelopment of Ballymore and driving growth and development in the community game. The 46-year-old will also maintain a role in setting the direction of the Reds.

Graham, a former Reds fullback who was raised in Queensland, admitted it was a tough decision to leave the struggling Force after two years at the helm. But the 39-year-old said the opportunity to return to a ''rugby-strong state'' and his home after 10 years away coaching overseas and interstate was too enticing to knock back.

''I wish to make it clear that it is in no way a reflection on RugbyWA or the Emirates Western Force,'' he said in a statement.

''I intend to do everything I can to make the back half of our season a successful one and there will be no distractions in my desire to achieve finals for the club in 2012.''

Graham has enjoyed little luck since taking over from John Mitchell as Force coach at the end of 2010.

A glut of injuries in his first year saw the Force finish 12th with five wins, two draws and nine losses.

They have enjoyed a slightly better run on the injury front this year. But the pre-season resignation of first-choice flyhalf Willie Ripia, after he was caught stealing from teammates, left the Force in the lurch. They have since struggled to two wins from eight games.

Graham fronted the player group yesterday to inform them of his decision. Force chief executive Vern Reid believed Graham's defection wouldn't influence Pocock's decision on whether to re-sign.

The Force are pulling out all stops to keep the star 23-year-old, with Pocock to be consulted over recruitment and also possible replacements for Graham.

Reid admitted Graham's departure was a blow, but revealed he had already canvassed possible coaching replacements over recent weeks.

''For us, we would prefer an Australian coach,'' Reid said.

''But clearly, if there is a better coach than an Australian coach either coaching in Australia or overseas, then we would look for the best possible option so that we can continue to strengthen our position in Super Rugby.'' AAP

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