Leeds Carnegie have completed a double deal to bolster their Championship promotion bid – snapping up back rower Ed Williamson and Tongan international prop Halani Aulika.
Former Newcastle Falcons player Williamson, 27 and Aulika, 28, have both signed for the rest of the season.
Williamson, who can play at number eight or blindside flanker, left Kingston Park at the end of last season following a run of freak injuries that limited his game time and brought to an end an 11-season spell at the club.
Initially, it appeared that a hand injury would force him out of the game but after discussions with a number of specialists, he had corrective surgery and has now been cleared to return.
He said: “I was going through the process of retiring through the hand injury and securing compensation when I was recommended to see a specialist, Mr Mike Hayton, in Manchester. He was confident that the damage could be repaired and that was the best news I could have received.
“I didn’t want to retire and missed rugby so much.
“I kept myself involved in the game coaching Westoe in the lower leagues as well as England Students and Newcastle University. However, not having the day-to-day buzz of training and being part of a team left a big gap in my life.
“I was delighted when Leeds Carnegie offered me the chance to play for them this season and it is now up to me to earn a new deal for next season through my performances. The frustrating thing about how my time ended at the Falcons was that I felt I was coming to the peak of my career.
The back rower, who made 32 Premiership appearances for Newcastle, has been keeping himself in shape while out of the game as a physical trainer as well as trying out Brazilian Jiu Jitsu in his spare time.
He added: “I have been doing a lot of work in the gym but there are only so many weights you can lift before that becomes boring.
“I missed the competitive nature of rugby training and a mate suggested we went up to a gym run by former UFC fighter Ian ‘The Machine’ Freeman. I really enjoyed it, I wasn’t using techniques that involved my hand too much, it is more using the forearm, but it was a great experience.
“There are no rest periods like in rugby, you have to be on your game all the time or else someone is going to tag you and that hurts!”
On snapping up Williamson, head coach Diccon Edwards said: “We are pleased to have recruited a player of Ed’s experience. He is very hungry to prove he can play at the highest level again and his enthusiasm has been evident from the moment we spoke to him.
“He has trained with the squad this week and fitted in immediately with the guys. He will not be involved this Sunday against Bedford but should be available for selection next week for the game at Nottingham.”
Aulika, who can play at loose or tight head, played for the Highlanders in Super 15 Rugby last season and made three appearances in the World Cup in New Zealand for Tonga.
The South Sea Islander, who arrived in England yesterday, has been capped five times for Tonga, making his debut for the national team in August 2011 in the World Cup warm up games against Fiji.
Along with Highlanders, he has also played in New Zealand for Otago and Otuhuhu.
Edwards added: “We are delighted to have secured a player of Halani’s quality as we enter a crucial part of the season.
“The fact that he can play on both sides of the front row is a major plus for us especially with Mike MacDonald and Phil Swainston currently out injured and Kane Palma-Newport having returned to Bath after his loan spell at the club.
“He will add a lot of experience to our squad as we look to build our momentum in to the play-offs and our promotion drive.”