PLANS to make the Southern Kings a force to contend with in Super Rugby took a major step forward yesterday when they announced three big-name international signings.
Former Springbok hooker Bandise Maku, Argentine scrumhalf Nicolas Vergallo and New Zealand's Auckland Blues backline player Hadleigh Parkes will arrive in Port Elizabeth at the end of the month.
Kings fans were especially delighted by the signing of Lions hooker Maku, 26, who is originally from the Eastern Cape.
"Bandise is from this part of the world, so we are delighted to welcome him back," Southern Kings chairman Cheeky Watson said.
"He is from King William's Town and, by coming home, I believe Bandise will play some of the best rugby of his career."
Vergallo has played 29 matches for his country and will be a major asset for the Kings as they bid to mix it with the "big boys" next year. Parkes is a versatile backline player who has shone for the Blues as well as Auckland in the ITM Cup.
"I had been hoping to name some more signings, but a few minor details still need to be sorted out," Watson said. "I hope that we will be in a position to name four or even five new signings next week."
Last month, the Kings confirmed the signing of three high-profile South Africans – Andries Strauss (Cheetahs), Steven Sykes (Sharks) and Demetri Catrakilis (Western Province). "At the moment, we do not have any other foreign players in our sights, so I do not think we will get anywhere close to the six foreigners we originally wanted to sign," Watson said.
"I am happy that we are meeting the deadlines we set for recruitment when one considers that there are still competitions running," he added.
Kings chief executive Anele Pamba said the franchise had negotiated in a very lean way so there was still some money in the bank for additional recruitment.
He had no doubt the Kings would be able to hold their own in Super Rugby.
"When somebody comes to our fort in Port Elizabeth next year we will put them aside," he said.
The Kings play the first match of their Super Rugby campaign against Australia's Western Force at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium in Port Elizabeth on February 23.