LESLEY VAINIKOLO - arguably the most explosive and devastating finisher in Super League history - will switch codes and join Gloucester Rugby from Bradford Bulls on 1st July on a three-year deal.
The giant 6'2" winger, who weighs in at 110kg, has scored an unprecedented 143 tries in 146 games since joining the Bulls from Canberra Raiders in 2002, and will add pace as well as physical threat to the Gloucester back-line.
Released by Bradford midway through his current contract after a personal request from the player, Vainikolo, 28, will link up at Kingsholm with former Bulls team-mate Karl Pryce for a full pre-season with Gloucester ahead of the 2007/08 campaign.
Dean Ryan, Gloucester's head coach, described the signing as "one of the most exciting in the club's history".
"I'm absolutely delighted that we have signed Lesley," Ryan said. "He has the potential to be a world-class player in rugby union.
"We had informal discussions a couple of years ago about a possible move, and when we heard that his desire to play union was still strong we moved quickly.
"His try-scoring record is without equal and the challenge now is for us to create the opportunity for him to transfer his abilities to 15-a-side rugby. The modern game requires power as well as pace, which Lesley will bring us.
"Both Lesley and Karl Pryce should be fit and raring to go after a full pre-season, increasing the physicality of the backline alongside our existing options."
Vainikolo, known throughout rugby league as 'the Volcano', has scored 14 tries in 12 appearances for New Zealand, including nine during the 2000 World Cup. In his second season with Bradford he scored 28 tries in 32 appearances and was voted best rugby league player in the world. The following season he destroyed the Super League scoring record with 37 touch-downs in just 26 matches, and his try-scoring ratio has remained at around 1 per game ever since.
Vainikolo said: "First and foremost I want to take this opportunity to thank everyone connected with Bradford Bulls - including my team-mates, the staff and all the supporters - for making the last 5 years so memorable. Bradford is my home and I know I'll be back. I'm determined to go out on a high and want to contribute as much as possible over the next 6 weeks before I make the switch.
"I'm really proud to be joining a club of Gloucester's reputation. They have shown this season what potential they have in reaching the Premiership final, and having met with Dean Ryan and the other coaches I know there isn't a better place for me to be to learn about union.
"Kingsholm is a great stadium, even more so when the new Grandstand is completed, and from speaking with Karl Pryce the off-field set-up is everything you would expect from a top side."
Peter Hood, Chairman of Bradford Bulls, said the decision to release Vainikolo had not been taken lightly.
"Lesley came to see me and said that he still had a burning desire to see if he could replicate his success in rugby league in union.
"There aren't many players who have achieved as much as Lesley has with Bradford, or who have given fans so much pleasure with their performances, which I'm not sure we will ever see beaten in Super League. In view of this and his 5 years of unflinching commitment and service to the Bulls, we agreed that should we be able to secure a world-class replacement we would not stand in the way of his dream.
"Lesley knows he is welcome back at Bradford at any time and we genuinely wish him every success with this move."
Named Man of the Match by BT Sport, scrum-half Willi Heinz said after the 15-11 win at Bath on Friday evening that it was a pretty happy Gloucester dressing room and reward for a lot of hard work put in during the week leading up to the game.
Speaking after the 15-11 win over Bath at the Rec on Friday evening, David Humphreys heaped praise on his players, pointing out how they had bounced back after last week's tough defeat to overcome a rough start before controlling the game and earning the win.
Gloucester Rugby hooker Richard Hibbard spoke to the local media this week as the Cherry and Whites prepare to face Bath Rugby in the Aviva Premiership. The Welshman is ready to bounce back at The Rec.
Speaking to the local media about the local derby against Bath at the Rec on Friday evening, Director of Rugby David Humphreys acknowledged that it will be a tough encounter but hugely exciting at the same time and one the squad are looking forward to.
A visibly disappointed Billy Twelvetrees admitted that it was a very sombre Gloucester dressing room as a last minute try and conversion condemned the Cherry and Whites to an 18-19 defeat against Leicester Tigers on Saturday.
A disappointed Tom Savage told GRTV, after the 18-19 defeat at home to the Leicester Tigers, that the whole Gloucester team had put in a fantastic effort, but just couldn't find the extra one or two percent necessary to put away a top side.
Speaking after the narrow loss to Leicester Tigers on Saturday afternoon, David Humphreys says despite there being a lot of good in Gloucester's performance, he rued the failure to close the game out, as well as thanking the home support
Kiwi second row Jeremy Thrush is thoroughly enjoying his time in Cherry and White so far, and this weekend the Leicester Tigers are the visitors to Kingsholm, and the All Black is massively excited about the challenge.
After two wins in the European Rugby Challenge Cup, securing a home quarter-final, David Humphreys told the local media this week that Gloucester are coming into Saturday's game in good physical shape having rotated the squad. However, he and the squad are prepared for a tough encounter against the Tigers.
It's almost four years since Gloucester won a Premiership game at the Rec against Bath. However, they got that monkey off their back on Friday evening with a hard-fought 15-11 win in testing conditions.