2018 Super Rugby season preview: Rebels

Super Rugby
by Sam Phillips

The Rebels face unprecedented expectations in the season that lies ahead.

With a new coach, large influx of playing talent and increased intrigue to boot, Melbourne head into tomorrow night's season opener with a target on their backs.

Movement

IN: Adam Coleman, Will Genia, Dane Haylett-Petty, Billy Meakes, Tetera Faulkner, Matt Philip, Geoff Parling, Henry Hutchison, Anaru Rangi, Angus Cottrell, Richard Hardwick, Ross Haylett-Petty, Michael Ruru, Ben Daley, Jermaine Ainsley, Sam Talakai, David Horwitz, Tayler Adams

OUT: Sean McMahon, James Hanson, Toby Smith, Nic Stirzaker, Ben Meehan, Mitch Inman, Will Miller, Jackson Garden-Bachop, Ben Volavola, Tyrel Lomax, Cruze Ah-Nau, Pat Leafa, Siliva Siliva, Steve Cummins, Dom Day, Murray Douglas, Culum Retallick, Harley Fox, Jordy Reid, Jake Schatz, Hugh Sinclair, Mick Snowden, Dennis Pili-Gitau, Pama Fou, Kentaro Kodama, Jonah Placid

Who they'll miss most: Sean McMahon


They may still have a stellar starting backrow but there is no replacement for a player of McMahon's calibre. A string of outstanding performances for the Wallabies last year cemented his standing as one of the rising stars of world rugby and he will be sorely missed.

Boom recruit: Adam Coleman

Adam Coleman will lead the Rebels on Friday night. Photo: RUGBY.com.au/Stuart WalmsleyToss a coin between Coleman and Genia when it comes to this category, as this pair will lead Melbourne's charge. Coleman emerged into somewhat of a spiritual leader for the Force and Wallabies' next generation since bursting onto the scene in 2014 and now, he has the 'C' next to his name. He will be the most influential player at the club and if he can galvanise this squad, they could prove to be a serious contender.

MVP: Reece Hodge

Any one of Coleman, Genia, Hodge and Dane Haylett-Petty could claim this crown come season end but after a 2017 in which Hodge took his game to another level, he fits the bill here. The 23-year-old went from the Wallabies' Mr. Fix-it to an integral part of Michael Cheika's plans moving forward and if he fires, his teammates will follow suit.

Rising star: Jordan Uelese

Uelese shot into Wallabies calculations off the back of just three Super Rugby caps last year, such is his potential. He almost has as many Test caps (2) as he does Super Rugby matches and at 21, he is just getting started now James Hanson is plying his trade at Gloucester.

Most to prove: Jack Debreczeni


Debreczeni has been handed first crack at flyhalf by coach Dave Wessels and with that comes plenty of pressure. Debreczeni now has his hands on the wheels of a high powered attack for the first time in his career but he is an unproven commodity as it stands. He has the tools to be an elite playmaker but whether he can put it together remains to be seen.

What the coach says: "I’m excited about the prospect of coaching in Melbourne as the Rebels share many of the characteristics I have grown to love from my time in Western Australia.

"We are the ‘outsiders’ of the traditional powers in Australian rugby.

"These are very powerful galvanising forces for a club, and we’re very motivated by the fact that it’s ‘us versus the rest’.” - Dave Wessels.

Aussie Conference prediction: 3rd

The Rebels are reaching for new heights in 2018. Photo: RUGBY.com.au/Stuart WalmsleyMake no mistake, this is a high powered squad. On paper, Melbourne may actually have the best squad in the country. That's new, exciting territory for the Rebels but there is no precedent for this level of talent influx. Adding one or two new pieces to an established starting XV takes time to gel so when half of the team that will start against the Reds were playing for a different club last year, simple math says it will take at least half a season to even breach what this team is capable of producing. A Super Rugby season is closer to a sprint than a marathon and that will work against Melbourne, who could be anything come season end.