Rebels ready to produce in 2018
SUPER RUGBY PREVIEW 2018 - TEAM-BY-TEAM: In the 14th instalment of our 15-part build-up to the season we look at the next Australian team - the Rebels.
The Rebels have something to prove in 2018 - the general consensus was that they should have been cut instead of the Force last year.
We have seen minimal improvement since the Victorian-based franchise joined Super Rugby in 2011, and last year was the worst - finishing with a record of one win, one draw and 13 defeats record.
In the AFL-mad state, the Rebels long-term viability doesn't look strong. The team has received AU$30 million in funding and loan write-offs, double the amount given to the Force but that cost looks like a bad investment at this stage with little success to show for it.
Now more than ever the Rebels need to step up and deliver and they have never been better placed to do so. The injection of talent following the demise of the Force has changed the make-up of the team remarkably, taking in 12 former Force players.
Established Wallaby utility Reece Hodge recently told rugby.com.au of the team's high ambitions.
"All we're focused on is round one against the Reds in Melbourne and how we can build over the course of the season to hopefully win a Super Rugby title, we're not coming into come second or third or fourth or improve on last year, we're coming to win the thing, so that's our focus at the moment," Hodge said.
The reality is this side has little in common with last year's squad.
The four-year tenure of head coach Tony McGahan has ended. Despite some reasonable seasons in years two (7-9) and three (7-8), seeing the back of McGahan is probably best for the club who will also be without incumbent captain Nic Stirzaker who has been let go in favour of marquee signing Will Genia.
Also arriving from the Force is McGahan's replacement - young coach Dave Wessels, who orchestrated the turnaround of the Western club in 2017 finishing with the equal best record in Australia and second place in the conference. Wessels appointment could be a winner with so many ex-Force players already familiar with his approach.
Wessels has promoted Wallaby and ex-Force lock Adam Coleman as club captain, who will lead a young second-row with school leaver Trevor Hosea one to watch if he debuts, will long-time Rebel Tom English also shares leadership duties.
While Sean McMahon is the highest profile exit, the back row stocks still look strong with Colby Fainga'a, Jordy Reid and Japanese international Amanaki Mafi. Ross Haylett-Petty and Richard Hardwick come across from the Force to bolster flanker depth.
Fullback Dane Haylett-Petty will be a big addition, forming a dangerous back three combination with Wallaby wings Sefa Naivalu and Marika Kororibete. He is just the type of fullback that could get the best out of the two speedsters. Young fullback Jack Maddocks is a highly touted prospect that will provide cover.
The Rebels midfielders look promising with a host of Australia's best young talent on the books. Reece Hodge, Waratahs recruit David Horwitz and Force recruit Billy Meakes provide experience but youngsters Hunter Paisami, Semisi Tupou and Sione Tuipulotu can provide power running and athleticism. Australian Sevens recruit Henry Hutchinson was also a standout schoolboy centre who can cover wing
Tuipulotu in particular, is ready for a breakout year. The Rebels first 'home-grown' player debuted at 19-years-old in 2016 and has had three years in the Australian under-20 system. He will turn 21 next week and will hopefully be one of the stars for the Rebels for years.
One of the biggest question marks for the Rebels is over who will play flyhalf. Former Force journeyman Jono Lance was pencilled in to join the side before joining the Reds at the last minute.
Jackson Garden-Bachop and Ben Volavola have been released leaving youngsters Jack Debreczeni, Jack McGregor and NRC upstart Tayler Adams as potential starters. Debreczeni is the most established of the three, but seemed out-of-favour with former coach McGahan. He signed with Japan side Honda but has made a surprising return to the squad.
This is a stacked side ready to reward Rugby Australia's unwavering commitment to them, albeit with the helping hand of the Force. The Rebels need to prove that the narrative around 'four teams being stronger than five' rings true, with Australia's talent spread (disproportionally) across the teams.
Australian Conference Placing: Third
Player of the Year: Amanaki Mafi
Rookie of the Year: Jack McGregor/Tayler Adams
Breakout Player: Sione Tuipulotu
Best Signing: Adam Coleman
Super Rugby Placing: Just outside the top 10
Best finish: Tenth in 2015
Worst finish: Eighteenth in 2017
In: Jermaine Ainsley (Force), Tayler Adams (NSW Country Eagles), Adam Coleman (Force), Ben Daley (Force), Tetera Faulkner (Force), Will Genia (Stade Français), Richard Hardwick (Force), Dane Haylett-Petty (Force), Ross Haylett-Petty (Force), David Horowitz (Waratahs), Trevor Hosea (Melbourne Rising), Henry Hutchinson (Australia Sevens), Bill Meakes (Force), Hunter Paisami (Rebels), Geoff Parling (Exeter Chiefs), Matt Phillip (Force), Anaru Rangi (Force), Michael Ruru (Force), Sam Talakai (Reds).
Out: Cruz Ah-Nau (Zebre), Steve Cummins (Scarlets), Dominic Day (Saracens), Jack Debreczini (Honda Heat), Murray Douglas (Hurricanes), Harley Fox (Connacht), Jackson Garden-Bachop (Hurricanes), James Hanson (Gloucester), Mitch Inman (Oyonnax), Kentaro Kodama (Wild Knights), Patrick Leafa (Vannes), Tyrel Lomax (Highlanders), Sean McMahon (Sungoliath), Ben Meehan (London Irish), Tim Metcher (Nanaimo Hornets), Will Miller (Waratahs), Dennis Pill-Gaitau (Greater Sydney Rams), Jonah Placid (Toulon), Culum Retallick (Bay of Plenty), Jake Schatz (London Irish), Siliva Siliva (Melbourne Rising), Hugh Sinclair (Sydney Rays), Toby Smith (Hurricanes), Michael Snowden (Released), Nick Stirzaker (Saracens), Ben Volavola (North Harbour).
Squad: Adam Coleman, Alex Toolis, Amanaki Mafi, Anaru Rangi, Ben Daley, Bill Meakes, Colby Fainga'a, Dane Haylett-Petty, David Horwitz, Dominic Shipperley, Esei Ha'angana, Fereti Sa'aga, Geoff Parling, Harrison Goddard, Henry Hutchison, Hunter Paisami, Jack Maddocks, Jack McGregor, Jermaine Ainsley, Jordan Uelese, Jordy Reid, Laurie Weeks, Lopeti Timani, Marika Koroibete, Matt Philip, Michael Ruru, Pama Fou, Reece Hodge, Richard Hardwick, Robert Leota, Ross Haylett-Petty, Sam Jeffries, Sam Talakai, Sefanaia Naivalu, Semisi Tupou, Sione Tuipulotu, Tayler Adams, Tetera Faulkner, Tom English, Tom Moloney, Trevor Hosea, Will Genia.
By Ben Smith, RugbyPass
* Don't miss the last of the Australian teams.