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Melbourne Rebels sign Mike Harris on two-year deal

Canberra Times logo Canberra Times 23/05/2014 Stathi Paxinos
Mike Harris lines up a kick for the Wallabies against Scotland in Newcastle last year. © Getty Images Mike Harris lines up a kick for the Wallabies against Scotland in Newcastle last year.

The Melbourne Rebels are set to announce on Saturday morning the signing of Queensland utility back Mike Harris on a two-year deal.

The Rebels have been looking to add depth to its ranks of inside backs and had been unsuccessful in luring the likes of Bernard Foley, who helped dismantle the Rebels for the Waratahs on Friday night, and Canberra duo Matt Toomua and Christian Lealiifano, both Wallabies players who grew up in Melbourne.

Harris, who has played 10 Tests for Australia, can play five-eighth, in the centres or at full-back, has been a steadying influence in the Reds midfield and is an impressive goalkicker. 

The 25-year-old, who was off contract with the Reds this season, fits the Rebels needs of an experienced inside back who can be used in partnership with the improving incumbent, five-eighth Bryce Hegarty.

However, it is believed that the Rebels, who expressed interest in British and Irish Lions five-eighth James Hook, will still look for an international five-eighth to further bolster the ranks.

Meanwhile, Rebels coach Tony McGahan was philosophical about the 41-19 loss to the Waratahs, with the team being hard hit by injuries and players away on international duties. Rebels halfbacks Nic Stirzaker and Luke Burgess have suffered leg injuries, while Laurie Weeks (ankle) and Tamati Ellison (knee) were late withdrawals this week. Shota Horie and Male Sau have missed the past two games as they play for Japan.

"We had four EPS (extended playing squad) guys out there and three club players in the 23," McGahan said. 

"We were certainly off (from) what we have displayed (recently). I thought first-up tackling was poor for us tonight. We probably suffered a bit from a little bit of fatigue for a lot of guys and some guys didn't aim up but I thought they (Waratahs) were very physical and set piece cost us and just not have the ball. You can't play a side like that, a power side, and be tackling all night. You're going to come up short and you saw that."

Ben Meehan, who has played only five Super Rugby games off the bench, had his first start at No.9 while Jack Debreczeni and Lalakai Foketi, who was called up on Friday afternoon after Ellison's withdrawal, made their debuts.

"I thought for his first game (Meehan) did really well," McGahan said. "Ben hasn't played alot of rugby over the last few years so for him to get underway and get started is terrific for us.

"He held himself well. Jack Debreczeni and La (Foketi) getting underway, there's a lot of players getting their starts and accumulating some game time which is terrific for us."

The Rebels have notched at least one win against every Australian team except the Waratahs this season and skipper Scott Higginbotham said their failure against NSW, which beat them by 32-8 in round six, would cut deep.

"They've got a fantastic squad and great depth and I guess we just couldn't keep up with it which is a bit disappointing," Higginbotham said. 

"I think the biggest thing for us, which is the most disappointing, is that we haven't shown the Waratahs our best year and that hurts .. but it gives us something to play for next year."

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