OK, time to draw a line in the sand.
There, it’s done.
2017 was a horrible year all round; not just for the Rebels, not just for an Australian team, but for the future of the Super Rugby competition. The cull was an unmitigated disaster that put fans, players, and the whole game into a state of despair. The result; a 0-26 record against Kiwi teams, poor crowd attendance, and sponsors leaving in droves. If you ever wanted to write a case study on how NOT to have a major change activity, you need to look no further than the cull.
I’m happy that the Rebels survived the cull, and I honestly feel bad for the Western Force fans. Did I feel survivor’s guilt? Yes. Do I hope to see a professional Rugby presence from the west again one day? Yes.
Clyne and Pulver deliver the news no Rugby fan wanted to hear.
For now, I hope you find fortune in the NRC and IRPC. For us Rebels, time to build for 2018 and beyond. With the Rebels now back in public hands, I expect to see a more community-focused Rebels, building success for the benefit of the Victorian community.
That’s why the line is drawn. And now, it’s time to look at the Melbourne Rebels in 2018.
We’ve been used to turnover in our squad, but nothing at this level.
A staggering 24 players left the Rebels at the end of 2017. Even by our standards, that’s high. Names like Stirzaker, Inman, Lomax, and Hansen will all be missed. The biggest loss for me is Sean McMahon; a gifted player, who would always give everything he had, and leave nothing on the field. Even as a potential future captain, I cannot blame him for heading overseas to earn a good wage while he can.
Sean McMahon, doing what he does best – beating ‘Tahs.
I wish all our Rebels alumni the best for the future.
The strange one for me is that three players; Garden-Bachop, Douglas, and Smith all went to the Hurricanes. While they all went for different reasons, it seems odd that they need any Australian talent.
Give the demise of the Force, a number of good players were snapped by the Rebels. Meakes, Ainsley, the Hayley-Petty brothers, and Phillip just to name a few. The clear pick of the bunch is Adam Coleman; aggressive, talented, and talismanic. It’s no surprise the players seem him as a natural leader.
Yep, we all reckon Adam is pretty super.
Will Genia heads the list of players returning from overseas. The Wallabies halfback will bring a lot of structure to the halves and support the development of our young 10’s (McGregor, Adams), and help kick our backline into top gear.
Star players – Will Genia, Adam Coleman, Reece Hodge, and Amanaki Mafi.
Last year, I wrote about two glaring weaknesses in the Rebels game; the lineout, and the halves. I hoped it would be corrected it last year. Sadly, I was wrong. The lineout was more consistent, but we lacked strong leadership at flyhalf. Given we swapped players on a regular, it isn’t any wonder we couldn’t find consistency in the backs.
Thankfully, our off-season recruitment gives up good depth all across the paddock. We’ve now got three international locks, a world-class class scrumhalf, enough props to bankrupt the local buffet, a ball tearing midfield, and lots of speed to burn out wide.
Despite the gloom of 2017, fans witnessed the rise of two new Wallabies; Marika Koroibete, and Jordan Uelese. Fans had big expectation for the former Storm flyer, and he replayed the faith shown in him. With six tries in 13 matches, he soon caught the eye of Cheika and made his Wallaby debut against Argentina. Jordan made his Rebels debut against the Blues (round 1) but caught the eye of Cheika when playing for the Australia U20’s. Like Marika, he made his debut against Argentina, scoring his first try.
If I had to be picky, we might be a tad thin at hooker, and perhaps a little green at flyhalf. For a change in pace, we now have versatility across a number of positions; at flyhalf, Hodge or Maddocks could convert into a playmaker, but for now, I’d rather use what we have and let everyone focus on their core positions.
The challenge for Dave Wessels is gelling the team into a cohesive unit that believes it can win the competition. Talent will only take you part of the way; what the Rebels need is an astute tactician, savvy with unlocking the best in an individual, who can combine skills and talent into a potent weapon. In short, a fearless general who can continuously improve.
When I’ve heard David speak (public events, podcasts et al.,) I get the feeling that this man knows how to unlock the best in people. David knows how to engage, drive and gel teams. He is prepared to take risks, try new things, potentially family, but quickly learn. This precisely what the Rebels need.
David Wessels – an impressive man, who has his work cut out for him.
With an army of top support staff, an onfield leader like Adam Coleman, I feel confident we will go a long way under David’s leadership.
Trials. A comprehensive loss against the Brumbies, followed by a pool stage exit at the Brisbane 10’s. The win against the Reds being the sweet highlight.
The season kicks off with the Reds on 23 February, following the Sunwolves (A), Brumbies (H), and the Waratahs (A). We then host the Shark and Hurricanes before our first bye.
After the break, we host the Jaguares, then go on the road to South Africa to play the Bulls and Stormers. On our return, we host the Crusaders, then play the Brumbies in Canberra.
After another midseason bye, we have two games before the June international test window; at home to the Sunwolves, then away to the Blues.
Rounding out the regular season, we host the Waratahs, then go on the road to play the Reds and Highlanders.
Unlike last year, we don’t face a block of Kiwi team early, and the byes are well scattered through the season. The road trip to South Africa will be tough, playing two very strong teams.
Overall, not a bad draw.
Given the talent we have available, my first XV will be tough to pick. Feel free to debate my picks in the comments below.
- Tetra Faulkner
- Jordan Uelese
- Jermaine Ainsley
- Geoff Parling
- Adam Coleman
- Lopeti Timani
- Colby Fainga’a
- Amanaki Mafi
- Will Genia
- Tayler Adams
- Sefa Naivalu
- Reece Hodge
- Billy Meakes
- Maria Koroibete
- Dane Haylett-Petty
Yes, spots for positions will be tight this year, so I expect the best XV will evolve as the season progresses. We have depth in all positions, giving us options to get the combinations and balance right.
In the backrow, I’ve gone with a big basher (Timani), a breakdown jackal (Fainga’a), and the space-making gazelle (Mafi). No doubt that Cottrell, Hardwick, and Leota are not far down the pecking order.
Amanaki Mafi – backrow superstar, all-round nice guy.
Based on preseason form, flyhalf is still wide open. Given that Jack Debreczei isn’t in the main squad, it’s likely that Tayler Adams will get the first crack at 10. It would not shock me to see, McGregor, Maddocks, Horwitz, or even Hodge get a turn at 10. Still, Debreczei has featured in a few trial games, so I assume he’s in the supplementary squad.
For the smoky, look out for Jack Maddocks at starting fullback. DHP would be the frontrunner, but Jack isn’t too far from a starting spot at fullback.
As I said above, the line is now drawn through the sand. I’m not looking back at past performances; I’m treating this by in large as a new team. With a number of new players coming over to Melbourne, past precedent is largely irrelevant.
That said, we have the talent on paper to win the Australian conference, possibly even the whole competition. A bold statement, you bet it is. If you think I’m wrong, go and prove me wrong.
Our challenge is not our talent; it’s bringing all this talent together and forming a cohesive unit. This means everything; the players, the tactics, the execution, coaches, specialists, support teams, and fans.
As fans, we leave most of the hard work to the Rebels team. But, we play an important role that is crucial to success. We must be there on game day, cheering on our team. Let them know you’re here, even if it’s pouring rain, screaming until you lose your voice, all in support of the work they do.
If we can gel quickly, we keep our players fit, and we keep the political shenanigans away from the game, then we have an excellent chance of success this year.