>Ask Nic Stirzaker how much more challenging 2017 was with a crippling injury toll and months of Super Rugby uncertainty, and he is frank.
“Well, yeah it made it pretty difficult, we came last,” he said.
To say the season was a learning curve for the 26-year-old, who was among the casualty list for much of the year, would be an understatement.
“(I learned) more than you can put into words in a short little article, probably,” he said.
“(I think it was just) learning to control what you can control in rugby and in your life because there was a lot that we couldn’t control this year.”
He will have close to the toughest competition of all for his spot next year, with Wallabies vice-captain Will Genia joining the club, but Stirzaker said his own goal was a simple one.
“I just want to enjoy playing rugby again and rediscover the love of the game a bit,” he said.
“This year was pretty hard with all the noise around and all the results but for me I’ll just be trying to learn from the players that are coming in and play the best I can.”
Though the Rising have won just one NRC game this season, their young backline has given Rebels fans, and Stirzaker, a reason for optimism in the years to come.
“It’s basically the (Australia) U20s backline I’ve been playing with and they’re lighting it up,” he said, after Melbourne's loss to Brisbane City last Sunday.
“I know we lost today but that try in the 80th minute - there’s some classy players there.
“(Centre) Sione Tuipulotu is really coming on and Jack Maddocks is absolutely killing it.
"Jack McGregor’s got a big future as well, so (it's) really exciting.
“Obviously (they're) not all the results they wanted but hopefully they take a lot of learnings.
"They’ll have big futures in Australian rugby - we need them.”
That the trio will not just be walk-up starts into the Super Rugby starting side next year, may just be the best thing for them, Stirzaker said.
“Competition’s great for the team,” he said.
“It’s something we lacked particularly this year because of injuries.
“We were pulling in guys from Sydney who had never been part of the program and stuff - who did really well - but it’s no substitution for having 30-40 fit players all pushing each other.”
Though the ARU’s decision to cut the Western Force from Super Rugby next year was met with understandable outrage from WA fans, Stirzaker said he didn’t feel the Rebels had any extra point to prove in 2018.
“I think Australian rugby has a point to prove next year,” he said.
“I think all the franchises, all the four sides will be going to do that.”