Hello, and welcome to the Melbourne Rebels season review. This review is a little different from normal; the team that bring you preview and reviews of Rebel matches will share their thoughts on season 2016. The team:
We are all passionate fans of both the Rebels, Rising, and Rugby in general. We’re excited to share our thoughts on what we saw this season.
But first, a recap. The season preview highlighted a very successfully 2015, but it was time for the Rebels to now deliver. Despite some key losses, the Rebels had made some astute recruitment in the off season. The stage was set to improve the ladder position, and even push for finals.
Season 2015, in a nutshell.
The end of the 2015 season saw eleven players depart the club, including captain, Scott Higginbotham. The Rebels’ recruited some experienced replacements in Wallaby, James Hanson, former All Black, Adam Thomson and, Irish International, Jamie Hagan. However, the long-term plan is to develop young Australian talent, with a view on local Victorian players.
In some of the best news of the year, two of those younger players were locals; Sione Tuipolotu and Rob Leota. Developed in the Rebels elite pathway program, they become the first local players to sign with the Rebels. In a another success story for the NRC, another 2015 players signed with the Rebels – Reece Hodge.
Sione and Rob – Victorian born Rebels.
The Rebels found themselves with one of the toughest draws travel wise to start the season. In the first four rounds they played games in Perth, Pretoria, Melbourne and Tokyo. Despite the schedule and mounting injury toll, The Rebels won three of the four games for their best ever start to a season.
After defeating the Cheetahs in round nine of the competition, the Rebels found themselves at the top of the Australian conference with five wins from eight games. Unfortunately, their stay at the top of the ladder would only last another week. A mounting injury crisis and a tougher draw meant the Rebels would only record two wins in the second half of the season, to finish third in the Australian Conference and 12th overall.
Crowd attendance was slightly down on the previous years. Whilst over 13,000 fans turned up to watch the Rebels v Hurricanes, an average of 10,500 fans turned up to all seven home matches.
Off field, the Rebels organisation went through significant change; the club returned to a private ownership model. The Imperium Group, headed by Andrew Cox, and together with Melbourne businessman Peter Sidwell, took a majority stake in the company. In a heavily front loaded arrangement, the ARU will continue to provide additional funding to the Rebels for a total period of five years to help ensure the club’s future.
“The first thing we do when we acquire a business is make sure there is a good management team in place,” Cox said. “We have that already with Tony McGahan and his staff. So that part is going well. We have to work harder to achieve things off the field, but we think we can do that.”
Peter Sidwell and Andrew Cox – new owners of the Melbourne Rebels.
RaboDirect, the foundation naming rights sponsor, ceased their relationship with the Rebels at the end of the 2015 season. Whilst some minor sponsorship deal has been announced, the Rebels had no major sponsor in 2016. And to date, no major sponsor has been announced for 2017.
The Rebels found a new home, with a move of their training base and operations from the facilities at Carlton’s Ikon Park to AAMI Park.
AAMI Park – the home of the Rebels
All Clubs rely on a strong membership base, and the Rebels jostle for space in a tight market. In a positive move, membership numbers have increased to 9276 in 2016. Included in the figures are the free memberships gifted to all Victorian junior players who have registered with a local club. Of note is the growth in the premium membership package, known as the Weary Dunlop Club. Membership numbers of the $2000 a year package doubled in 2016.
All in all, 2016 has been a mixed bag of results, on and off the field.