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Another superstar switches codes
The Otago Rugby Football Union and New Zealand Rugby Union confirmed today that Michael Witt has signed a two-year deal with the province and will play for Otago in the Air New Zealand Cup in 2009 and 2010.
The 25-year-old Warriors standoff, hailing from Queensland, is an outstanding goal kicker and made his NRL debut in 2003 for the Parramatta Eels before joining Manly, and then the Warriors in 2007.
He missed just one match in his debut Warriors season and also starred in the team's run to the NRL playoffs last year.
"Michael is excited at the opportunity to be playing rugby in Dunedin and we are as well," ORFU chief executive Richard Reid said today.
"He will look to come down and meet the Otago rugby community shortly, he will play club rugby and then join his new team for the Air New Zealand Cup."
Witt could be in action as eaqrly as the third round of club play which starts in Dunedin this weekend.
"It's tough leaving the Warriors because I've had a great time in Auckland," he said.
"I've absolutely loved the fans here. They've been brilliant to me and I can't thank them enough for that.
"I really enjoyed being part of a side that took the club to the finals two years running and to go so close to making the grand final last year was a huge highlight.
"I'll keep following the club and I hope the boys go really well this year but I'm also excited about taking on a new challenge, moving to a new place and having a shot at union. I can't wait."
NZRU professional rugby general manager Neil Sorensen said the NZRU had facilitated the deal to bring Witt across to rugby.
"Michael let it be known that he was keen to play rugby in New Zealand so we started exploring the possibilities which has resulted in him signing for Otago," said Sorensen.
"The NZRU has also contracted him to cover the potential for him to play Rebel Sport Super 14 rugby next year,"
Warriors officials have said they would not stand in the way of Witt pursuing a career across the codes.
Warriors chief executive Wayne Scurrah said the club appreciated Witt's contribution in his time in Auckland.
"He's an unbelievable goal kicker and really established himself as a crowd favourite here," he said.
"Michael was also outstanding with the promotional and charity work he did off the field and we really appreciate the contribution he made in the community.
"We'll certainly be watching with interest as he makes way in rugby union and wish him and his wife Ange all the best in Dunedin."
In all Witt played 90 NRL matches including 47 for Parramatta and Manly. He has scored 611 points.
Witt became surplus to requirements in Penrose this year. New signing Joel Moon and youngster Shaun Johnson are seen as the main options at five-eighth, while the club also has plenty of alternatives at halfback.
Otago have been on the hunt for a first five-eighths ever since Daniel Bowden confirmed he was returning to Auckland at the end of this year's Super 14 season.
Matt Berquist, the other No 10 with the Highlanders, plays his provincial rugby in Hawke's Bay.
The NZRU have apparently been keen to lure Witt into the code, with the Warriors director of football, former All Blacks coach John Hart, recommending he'd be a good fit in the XV-man game.
New Zealand rugby is not exactly awash with quality five-eighths at present, with the depth below Dan Carter worryingly thin.
Plus Witt is a quality goalkicker, which is another aspect of his game that appeals to rugby officials.
Witt proved himself to be one of the NRL's hottest goalkickers in history with a strike rate of more than 92 percent in his first season with the Warriors. He scored 291 points in his 43 games, the third highest points-scorer in the club's history.
Stephen Donald is the incumbent backup to Carter, who will miss the start of the test season as he recovers from his Achilles tendon injury in France.
But after that the options are limited, with Crusaders youngsters Stephen Brett and Colin Slade considered the next best. Both have a lot of work to do yet before they could be considered as legitimate test options.
The returning Luke McAlister is another potential fill-in at No 10, but he still has to receive a special dispensation to return to international rugby without having fulfilled the NZRU's own requirement of having played in a domestic competition.
Otago officials have been impressed with what they've seen from him so far, and are hoping he can step in and become the quality No 10, or 12, they've been missing since Tony Brown left.