Rebels with a cause in 2018

Super Rugby
Beth Newman Profile
by Beth Newman

On paper, the Melbourne Rebels have one of the most-stacked Super Rugby lineups in recent memory, but that means nothing to star back Reece Hodge.

Hodge is one of the surviving players from the 2017 Rebels, and one of the standouts of their wooden-spoon side last season.

The 23-year-old said the onus was on the playing group to make sure they lived up to the first-rate billing they have on the outside.

"With the roster we've got, people are expecting big things," he said.

"It's up to us to fulfil those expectations and really have a great year.

"If every one of our players who have got a reputation are playing well consistently week to week, then we're going to have some great results for the team, both from an individual level playing to our ability and then also gelling as a team."

Reece Hodge was stretchered off in the 2nd minute. Photo: Getty ImagesAs far as turning results around, Hodge said there was no limit to their aspirations.

We've pretty much written off last year, to  be honest," he said.

"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.

Teams with the top-line talent this crop of Rebels have are few and far between, and those on the inside are trying to ensure it doesn't go to waste.

Lock Adam Coleman can’t remember being in a side with as much depth as that in Melbourne this year.

Adam Coleman is heading home. Photo: Getty Images“It might be players on the bench that would usually be starting and in each position, there's probably three people you could easily put in there and it'd be a seamless transition, on the field and the training pitch,” he said.

“This is probably the team I've been in that has got the most depth that I've been a part of.

“Just in training, there's some really good players on the sideline just waiting to get a rep and it's really healthy for our team and that competition.

Hodge has become the ultimate utility at Test level, after proving his worth in a handful of spots at Super Rugby, but he appears most likely to start the year at 13.

“I think probably the centres, whether that's 13 or 12 at this stage, working with people like Billy Meakes and obviously got a lot of depth with people like Sione Tuipulotu, Tom English can play there, Dave Horwitz has come down from the Tahs,” he said.

“It’s just going to be some great, healthy competition there and hopefully I can earn a spot for round one.”

The future of Jono Lance at the club is far from settled, with the first-choice flyhalf being keenly pursued by English club Worcester, seemingly all but certain to be leaving for England for the 2018-19 season.

Though no formal exit has been finalised, Lance is believed to be interested in taking up an offer with the Premiership club, in the same vein as former Rebels hooker James Hanson, who was released to take up a contract with Gloucester.

A broken hand, suffered during his stint with the Warriors, means he likely won’t be available for the opening Super Rugby rounds, regardless of his contract status.

The Rebels have some options at 10, with Jack Debreczeni making a somewhat surprising return to the club after a Japanese stint, while youngster Jack McGregor is one of the most highly-rated young 10s, and former U20s fullback Jack Maddocks has also reportedly been trialled in the playmaking spot.

As well as that trio, last year’s Shute Shield player of the year, Tayler Adams, is an option as chief playmaker as well.

The Rebels open their Super Rugby season on Friday February 23, against the Reds at AAMI Park, kicking off at 7:45pm AEDT. Buy tickets here.