We made another small step in the right direction
It may seem a pretty obvious statement, but Rebels lock Hugh Pyle is determined to finally realise his national aspirations.
There is no doubt that the highly-rated second row forward looked ready to finally make his Wallaby debut in 2013, only for an untimely injury to again rob him of the opportunity many believe is long overdue.
So when he talks about taking that next step this year, it's completely understandable if you want to knock on wood or pull out your lucky rabbit's foot!
"I definitely want to play for the Wallabies in 2014, that goes without saying," Pyle said.
"I have been pushing for that since I started playing Super Rugby, and I think everybody playing for the Rebels is doing the same. To play for the Wallabies is what we all grow up wanting to do and to achieve that at some point would be awesome.
"If the franchise have five or six guys in the national squad, then that is a good marker of how we are travelling. Every player wants to make that breakthrough and there are definitely a lot of guys who had massive seasons in 2013, including some in their first season of Super Rugby, who will look to build on that and start to get rewarded with national selection."
As one of just four remaining Foundation Rebels, alongside Lachlan Mitchell, Luke Jones and Laurie Weeks, Pyle is well placed to reflect on a 2013 season which saw the franchise continue to head in the right direction.
First ever victories against the Highlanders, Waratahs and Stormers, as well as a double against the Western Force, propelled the franchise to its highest finish of twelfth. However, in line with the attitude of his Captain, Coach and CEO, Pyle expects greater improvement in 2014.
"[In] 2013 we, as a team, made another small step in the right direction," Pyle said.
"We still had a lot of guys there from the first two years and we did keep building on what we had achieved over the first two years. In saying that, we still weren't at the standard where we want to be, so that leaves us with a burning hunger moving forward."
Finishing the season with three straight home victories was a big positive, and Pyle believes building on that momentum will be vital if the franchise is to climb towards the top half of the table this season.
"There's always a great vibe around our home games, and as a result we often have very entertaining home fixtures and it is a really good night out," he explains. "You always want a home ground advantage, and we want to reward our great supporter base and our Members by playing the best that we can in front of them. It's easy to get up for those matches when you have that support behind you.
"The support at AAMI Park has been fairly consistent since day one; the ground makes everybody sound extremely loud. The Members are great; they are just so happy that there is a team in Melbourne who they can support, so we need to reward them as best we can."
Pyle, who has featured in numerous Wallaby logistics and training camps, saw a shoulder injury restrict him to just the opening forty minutes for the Rebels against the British & Irish Lions. It also deprived him of the opportunity to push for a Wallaby spot in the Rugby Championship or on the Spring Tour, but he is now back in full training and ready to go for a big season.
"I had a shoulder reconstruction; I dislocated my shoulder against the Reds. I had minor surgery which allowed me to come back against the British & Irish Lions and Highlanders but my shoulder wasn't up to scratch and so I had a full reconstruction. I didn't want my season to end there; I wanted to push for higher honours.
"I am back in full training now and I can't thank the physiotherapy staff and trainers enough for helping me get there. I didn't do any contact training before Christmas, which means my body feels great and I am ready for the full contact element now for the rest of pre-season and into the trial matches and Super Rugby."
Pyle is enjoying working with a new look on-field staff, spearheaded by Tony McGahan and Bryce Cavanagh.
"Tony likes to yell a lot, which is awesome, as we have a bunch of blokes including myself who need to be yelled at and put in their place from time to time," Pyle said. "He is very direct, but we all know that he knows what he is talking about; everything he tells you, he tells you for a reason.
"Bryce Cavanagh, as Head of Athletic Performance, is amazing. He has brought in some things, and taught us some things, that I have never seen or heard of being used in sport before, let alone Rugby. He is a very smart man, and he knows what works and what doesn't. Everything that we do with him has a good application and relevance to the game."
Pyle will again be a Melbourne Unicorns player in 2014, and he is looking forward to him and his teammates have a greater influence on the Dewar Shield than in previous seasons.
"I couldn't be happier with my Dewar Shield franchise allocation; I have just moved literally across the road from the Melbourne Unicorns, which cuts down my travel time into a five minute walk!
"Watching franchise Rugby here over the last three seasons, I have seen a lot of guys who with a better standard of competition would be able to improve their game and look to break through into Super Rugby. More Rebels being involved will hopefully push that standard up, and we will be able to see the results right throughout the franchise competition."
A big year beckons for Pyle, and hopefully this time next year Hugh will be reflecting upon a maiden international appearance and an improved Rebels final placing