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Young RaboDirect Rebel halves Bryce Hegarty and Nic Stirzaker have both spoken about the intense nature of their first pre-season underneath new Head Coach Tony McGahan and his team.
Hegarty, who was the youngest Rebel in 2013 and was a member of the Club’s Extended Playing Squad (EPS), made six appearances for the Club in his debut season and has recently extended his contract and moved into the full squad.
The Queenslander is looking to use his year of Super Rugby experience as a springboard into a second season where he hopes to figure prominently and take every opportunity presented to him.
"I’ve spoken to Tony and the other players about it and it's something I can’t wait to grab with both hands," Hegarty said. "Hopefully I’ll have a big pre-season and jump into 2014 on the front foot."
There's no doubting that a big pre-season is on the cards, with Hegarty describing training thus far as the toughest he's had.
"There's a great feeling amongst the group and we're all working our butts off. Working this hard, this early, is something that we lacked last year and this year everyone is looking to build and gain individually as well as a team.
Everyone's putting in the little bit extra whether it’s fitness, gym or study, and it's starting to tell. I know a lot of the boys are studying the plays, asking about them and why they are doing what they are."
Working with the rest of the Rebels' exciting young backline, and under the tutelage of an almost entirely new coaching staff, it will come as no surprise to most that Hegarty has been impressed by the work rate of one of the more experienced backs.
"As we have come to expect, Mitch Inman is leading by example in the backs, helping all the young guys and he's been great for that.
New Assistant Coach Sean Hedger has been great for us thus far, bringing a great deal of experience with him, and we're all buying into his ideas."
Stirzaker, who has returned to Melbourne after being released to play for the Manawatu Turbos in New Zealand's ITM Cup, agrees that the workload has increased from the same time last year.
"There has definitely been a step up from previous years, particularly around the contact area. We are doing a lot of breakdown work which has been involved in every session.
The new coaching group has brought in new standards and there is a really good vibe and drive around the place," Stirzaker says. "The new coaching and support team have brought in lots of fresh ideas, and the boys have definitely responded.
"We are pushing each other really hard, and you can see that all the new boys and the guys returning from previous years are relishing the hard work involved. The Club have invested in the best staff that they could recruit both on and off the field, so it is up to us as players to step up and really rip in for them."
Playing in New Zealand was a great opportunity for the young scrumhalf, who enters his third pre-season as a Rebel and will be competing with former Wallaby Luke Burgess and Australian Under 20 representative Ben Meehan in a evenly-contested race for the number nine jersey.
"For a young guy such as myself, it was a great opportunity to get more experience playing at a high level and I really enjoyed it," Stirzaker said. "The opportunity presented itself and I jumped at the chance, even though it meant I was sacrificing having a big break.
"I get along really well with both of the other scrum halves, we train and do a lot of extra work together, and it's important to have that bond even if we are vying for the same position; the healthy competition is bringing out the best of all of us, which is perfect."
Hegarty finished 2013 in style, scoring the winning try amongst a double as the Rebels came from behind to beat the Highlanders at AAMI Park, and he is hoping to build on that finish when 2014's Super Rugby campaign kicks off.
"The last game was a great win by the boys, everyone dug deep and I was lucky enough to get two tries in the end. I thought our back half of the season went really well, we ended up putting a few wins on the board and hopefully we can bring that into 2014 and keep going forward."
"All the boys can’t wait for 2014, everyone's looking to move forward and build. We’re confident we’re going to have a good season."