Jones today became Baxter’s eighth signing of a busy summer, joining the Aviva Premiership club from top Rugby League side St Helens.
Baxter, who in recent weeks has spoken of his desire to add one or two more faces to his squad, believes the Preston-born player will be handy addition to the Chiefs for the 2015/16 season.
Commenting on the arrival of Jones, Baxter said: “It became known to us that Josh was one of those guys who was interested in playing rugby union, so we kept an eye on the situation and waited to see how things panned out.
“We were fortunate to have a meeting with him and he is a very impressive young man. He is very driven by what he wants to achieve in league and union. Just seeing how driven and ambitious he was about succeeding in union was impressive – sometimes those meetings can almost be the deciding factor. When you see someone’s personal qualities is a big thing for me.”
Although Jones has spent much of playing career with the Saints, he did have a brief flirtation with the 15-man game during his school days, starting out with his hometown club, Preston Grasshoppers.
And Baxter is confident it won’t take too long for Jones to make the transition across codes. He added: “Josh played union throughout school so it is not like it has been a long time since he played it; therefore we are hoping the switchover back to union won’t be too big a deal for him.
“We are looking at different types of players having different abilities in our team. He has played an awful lot of first class rugby for St Helens. He played in the final they won last year and played in last Friday’s win over Wigan. He has played a lot of high-level rugby league.
“We are aware that the switchover from league to union isn’t going to be straightforward. He will have to work very hard, but because of his personal pride and ambition we saw in the meeting, we know he will work hard.
“He has taken a chance moving to union because he has a well-established league career. He knows there will be a bit of transition time and he’ll probably have a period on loan somewhere, but he is very open to those ideas.”
Indeed, Baxter says he was encouraged by what he saw and heard from Jones and believes the player can be a hit with the Devon club
“One we had met, the whole thing seemed to be very straightforward for us,” said Baxter. “We are both laying our cards on the table and admitting that both parties will have to work extremely hard, us as a club and him as an individual. It is like that, but it is less of a gamble when you are sure of someone’s character.
“He is not the superstar that perhaps Kyle Eastmond or Sam Burgess were when they moved to Bath, but this is different. We have seen his qualities and want to see how that develops from a union perspective. He will almost certainly be playing in midfield and it will interesting to see how his attacking and defensive qualities translate to union.
“What myself and Ali [Hepher] are looking forward to doing is working with him because we have met him. Although he is very focused on league at the moment, he has taken some time to study union in the last few months and it just feels very right for me at this stage.
“To be fair to him, he will be playing league until the end of the Super League season then joining us midway through our season.
“We already have some high-quality midfield backs, but I think Josh is very aware of the situation - it is not about the here and now and making an impact the first time he steps onto the pitch, it is about getting his head down, working hard, getting the right knowledge and learning the game over a period of time.”
As always the Chiefs coaching team have left no stone unturned in looking at Jones and Baxter admits they like what they see.
Baxter continued: “He is still very young so it isn’t like it all has to happen straight away. We want to help him make it work as soon as possible though and we know he will work very hard.
“You tend to see that league players are very solid defenders who can stop the offload in the tackle, and I think there are times when we have been hurt by making decent low-down tackles and the ball has been passed away and it allows a team momentum.
“He is a strong runner and if he can beat the first tackle and get some momentum in has carry then he can usually break one or two more. It is very difficult though because in league they have very set roles in certain areas of the pitch and don’t deviate from those too much.
“That makes it very difficult to compare the two, and I found it very interesting analysing him and realising how different the two games really are. I think it is exciting for both ourselves and Josh and it will be interesting to see how it works out over the next couple of years.”
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