Acting Melbourne Rebels CEO, Pat Wilson, has declared the Melbourne Rebels will have the players necessary to compete for a finals spot in the expanded Super 15 when it kicks off in 2011. Speaking to G&GR Wilson was upbeat despite the sizeable bucket of shit dumped on the fledgling club by former Wallaby hooker, and budding media tart, Brendan Cannon.
Wilson seemed unfazed when asked about the comments “I haven’t seen them actually, but everyone is entitled to their opinion” he straight batted.
The Rebels have been criticised in some sections of the media for their inability to attract a big-name star and instead going for over-the-hill types. Wilson was quick to point out the strategy behind the signings thus far was sound.
“The average of our squad at the moment is 26 or 27. We’ve got a significant objective of being competitive from game one and to do that you need match hardened, experienced people who’ve been ‘round the block a few times.
“Those sorts of guys don’t grow on trees. We’ve done our research, we’ve done our assessment and we’re very, very comfortable with our balance between experience and the next rung of players coming through the system.”
At present the club has signed 25 players, with the signing of Luke Rooney to be announced in the coming days, however they were still looking to fill the roster of 33 players. With recruitment an on-going process, Wilson was happy with how things were progressing and stressed the fact that the Rebels were not working to a deadline as such.
“We’re still challenging ourselves we can go to 33 (players signed) however we’ll see what the best balance is between 30 and 33. Recruitment is a fairly fluid process and we’re not under any sort of deadlines so it could be right up until the end of the year (until recruitment is complete).”
It will be interesting to see how the Rebels go about recruiting to the rest of the positions particularly with the decision of Izzy Folau to try his hand with the Sherrin rather than the Gilbert.
It leaves the Rebels a decent amount of coin to throw at players however Wilson didn’t seem to have any major targets in mind, well, none that he was telling me about anyway. He also took a thinly veiled swipe at Izzy inc.
“The offer to Israel always had a premium attached to it as we always thought there was value in him returning to Melbourne from an on and off-field perspective, we’re not hiding from that fact.
“We were a little bit disappointed with the process and some elements of the negotiations but we’re moving on.
“Israel was a unique circumstance as he approached us. We thought the fit was good so it’s not as if we were out in the market trying to recruit players of that ilk. We are certainly not going to sink or swim on the signing of one player.”
While the Rebels mightn’t have a big name mungo or a Wallaby darling in their ranks as yet, what they do have is some decent young talent already coming through the Victorian rugby system with four members of the 2009 Australian Schoolboy squad from Melbourne.
With the details of any academy system the Rebels might put in place still under negotiation with the ARU, Wilson stressed the Rebels were looking to develop their own talent, rather than knock it off from other states, (like the Tahs do I thought to myself!).
“We are looking at how we best establish and create a development pathway for players in the Victorian environment. We will continue to have dialogue with the ARU about the best way to move forward in that area but we are setting up a professional rugby team and one of the key elements is that we are joined at the hip with broader rugby community in Victoria.
“The fact there was four Victorian boys who made the Australian Schoolboy level indicates there is potential here and the ARU granting the license to Melbourne has also signalled they believe there is potential.
“Our job will be to assist in the process of providing that pathway for schoolboys or young rugby players in Victoria and beyond.”
Things start getting serious for the Rebels come October when the squad will assemble and start training for their inaugural season. By then everything will be ready to roll facilities wise and the Rebels will be a functioning unit.
The draft draw for next year’s Super 15 has the Rebels taking on the Tahs then the Brumbies in the first two rounds. As the draw is in its draft form, Wilson did not want to comment on specifics but offered the response of “we would not be unhappy” if the Rebels were to meet the Tahs and Bumbies in the first two weeks….sounds like ‘bring it on” to me.
So what will the first season bring for the Rebels?
Off the field you get a sense that the club mightn’t turn a profit in its first year but it is not about short-run return. Wilson made mention of the significant costs start-up costs associated with the venture but was also quick to point out the club was “very comfortable” with where the off-field business was at.
I suppose the best way to sure up the off-field prospects of a rugby club is to achieve success on the field. It is the on field success where Wilson is certainly bullish.
“You can sense by my earlier comments and by the make-up of the squad, we anticipate coming out of the blocks and being competitive from game one.
“With the conference system and the new draw it is not beyond possibility of us realistically competing for one of the finals spots.”
Ok, so a CEO has to say that sort of stuff, but it might not be beyond the realms of possibility. After all, who at the start of the 2010 season would have predicted the Reds would be in at the business end?
Depending on whether you read the Australian or the Sydney Morning Herald, the Rebels are either the best thing since bottled beer or a disaster waiting to happen. In reality they are neither of those things, but after speaking to Pat Wilson, I think the Rebels will be closer to the Oz’s assessment than the SMH’s.