Rebels' injury list grows as round one team named

Super Rugby
Beth Newman Profile
by Beth Newman

Sefa Naivalu is the latest high-profile Rebel to be ruled out of their opening Super Rugby clash, with the winger failing to overcome an infection.

Naivalu shapes as one of the side's key players heading into 2017, but the speedster will be watching on as his teammates play the Blues on Thursday night.

The 25-year-old joins James Hanson, Sean McMahon, Toby Smith and Marika Koroibete among the spectators for the first matchup, with rookie Jack Maddocks to debut on the wing.

Maddocks, last year's Australia U20s fullback, has finally shaken off a bout of glandular fever to take the field for his first professional outing.

Jordan Uelese and Tyrel Lomax join Maddocks as graduates of last year's U20s to make the cut for the opening Rebels match, with Uelese the third Victorian to play for the Rebels.

Amanaki Mafi is a new face in the Rebels back row, with McMahon ruled out for the first month of the season, combining with Jordy Reid and Colby Faingaa in the starting lineup.

Mafi has been preferred to Lopeti Timani in that spot, despite the Tongan looming as the future Test number eight.

Amanaki Mafi scored for Japan. Photo: Getty ImagesThe injury list is a lengthy one but Rebels coach Tony McGahan is confident that it won't be as debilitating as the casualty count proved in 2016, preferring to take a cautious route with players.

“A couple injuries and illnesses during the trial phase has impacted selection for our season opener but the situation presents an early opportunity for players to put their hand up and stake their claim for positions,” McGahan said.

“It’s unfortunate we’re missing key players for Round One, we gave everyone the chance to prove their fitness and availability, but it’s too early in the season to risk the long term health of our players with a big season still ahead of us.

“There’s no shying away from the challenge with face against the Blues, they’re going to be a physical side full of confidence after their trial victory over the Chiefs last week, but we’ve got 23 fit players ready to roll up their sleeves and eager to impress."

Nic Stirzaker has overcome a head knockCaptain Nic Stirzaker will play his 50th cap, while new flyhalf Jackson Garden-Bachop will be the 100th Rebel to take the field.

Discarded Red Jake Schatz is in line for his Melbourne debut, included on the bench.

The Melbourne Rebels will kick off the 2017 Super Rugby season when they host the Blues from Auckland at AAMI Park on Thursday 23 February from 7.30pm.

TEAM

Rebels team to take on the Blues on Thursday February 23, kicking off at 7:40pm AEDT

1. Cruze Ah-Nau

2. Pat Leafa

3. Laurie Weeks

4. Steve Cummins

5. Lopeti Timani

6. Jordy Reid

7. Colby Fainga’a

8. Amanaki Mafi

9. Nic Stirzaker (Captain)

10. Jackson Garden-Bachop

11. Tom English

12. Reece Hodge

13. Mitch Inman

14. Jack Maddocks

15. Jack Debreczeni

Reserves

16. Jordan Uelese

17. Tom Moloney

18. Tyrel Lomax

19. Culum Retallick

20. Jake Schatz

21. Ben Meehan

22. Sione Tuipulotu

23. Jonah Placid

Blues team to take on the Rebels on Thursday February 23

1. Pauliasi Manu

2. Matt Moulds

3. Sione Mafileo

4. Jimmy Tupou

5. Gerard Cowley-Tuioti

6. Steven Luatua

7. Blake Gibson

8. Akira Ioane

9. Augustine Pulu

10. Ihaia West

11. Melani Nanai

12. Piers Francis

13. Rieko Ioane

14. Matt Duffie

15. Michael Collins

Reserves

16. Hame Faiva

17. Sam Prattley

18. Charlie Faumuina

19. Scott Scrafton

20. Murphy Taramai

21. Sam Nock

22. George Moala

23. Rene Ranger

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