The Rebels have added experience to their developing lineup but will they continue to improve on their 2015 efforts?
IN: Adam Thomson (Reds), James Hanson (Reds), Culum Retallick (Blues), Sione Tuipulotu (Melbourne Rising), Ryan Cocker (Taranaki), Jamie Hagan (London Irish), Siliva Siliva (Brumbies), Rob Leota (Northern), Reece Hodge (Manly).
OUT: Scott Higginbotham (NEC Green Rockets), Luke Burgess (Zebre), Radike Samo (released), Cadeyrn Neville (Reds), Paul Alo-Emile (Stade Francais), Keita Inagaki (Panasonic Wild Knights), Tom Sexton (Force), Ben Whittaker (released), Tom Kingston (released), Bryce Hegarty (Toyota Industries Shuttles), Telusa Veainu (Leicester Tigers).
Trial form: The Rebels’ trial pendulum swung wildly between their two outings. Their first, against an improved Auckland Blues side, saw them handed a 59-7 defeated. A fortnight later they laid on 13 unanswered tries to beat Manu Samoa 85-0. Trial form has a history of being deceptive but the Rebels’ is hard to get a read on regardless.
Why they can win:
Their core youngsters have another year of Super Rugby under their belts. Jack Debreczeni and Nic Stirzaker will continue to grow what is already a promising halves combination, though it will have to wait a couple of weeks. With the addition of Adam Thomson, Jamie Hagan and James Hanson they have injected the experience and composure they need to turn some agonising losses into possible wins.
Where they need to improve:
That composure under pressure was a major concern for the Rebels last year. With too few internationals and experienced players in their squad, they were on the wrong end of a handful of losses by less than a converted try. Tony McGahan has made no secret of his eagerness to add experienced players to change that and support their new captain in Stirzaker.
Superstar: Nic Stirzaker
Few make it through a mention of the new Rebels captain without a mention of his potential Wallabies debut. While he will miss at least the opening game with a shoulder setback, Stirzaker looms as the most critical member of the Rebels outfit. His combination with Debreczeni is growing with each game and the extra incentive of snatching Michael Cheika’s attention couldn’t hurt.
X Factor: Adam Thomson
The ex-All Black is possibly the best recruit the Rebels have picked up. He was a monster for the Reds last season, bringing some brute aggression to the game. Teaming up with Sean McMahon, who now has a World Cup campaign, in the Rebels back row, Thomson will make Melbourne a far more intimidating side.
Rising star: Reece Hodge
Hodge will make his debut in round one for the Rebels and will be a handy addition to their backline. The former Australian under-20s back has a long boot on him and versatility that means he can slot into a number of positions across the backline. Just sneaks in over Sefa Naiavalu, who is on the comeback from injury.
What the coach says:
“There’s great expectation within the group and we’re really keen to see how far we can take that this year. We understand the work that’s required to get us to that place. We’ve got a great playing group, fantastic staff and we’re really keen to make the most of it.”