Naisarani and local talent boost Melbourne Rising squad for 2018

The Rugby Championship
by RUGBY.com.au staff

STAR Melbourne recruit Isi Naisarani and an influx of homegrown talent - including the brother of Rob Valentini - are among the 33-man squad Rising squad named for the 2018 NRC campaign.

Naisarani, who has been recruited from the Brumbies, was included in the Rising group selected by head coach Eoin Toolan and is expected to play a leading role for the Victorian outfit.

The Fijian star has spent much of the last month training with the Wallabies but won’t become eligible for Australia until next year.

Along with a strong contingent of Rebels players, the Rising squad also contains a strong number of talented club players drawn from the Dewar Shield and Victorian pathways, including back row brothers Sakaria Noa and George Noa from the champion Melbourne Unicorns.

Also in the Rising squad is Semu Valetini, a 19-year-old flyhalf whose older brother is highly rated Victorian product Rob Valentini, who now plays in Canberra.

“There’s been a lot of preparation to this point assembling the team. This has been the first week we’ve been able to get all of our non-professional players in the club so it’s great to finally have everyone under one roof,” Toolan said.

“There are a couple of really exciting players to come out of Dewar Shield this year. Obviously Melbourne Unicorns had an exceptional year and were undoubtedly the best team in the competition so for Sakaria Noa and George Noa to make the 33 is probably a fair reflection on how the team performed,” said Toolan.

“Both those two guys really stood out individually for that team so I’m really excited to see those two brothers.”

Despite being on the wrong end of the scoreboard for Saturday’s Dewar Shield Final, Harlequins playmaker Kemu Valetini did enough to catch the eye of the Rising selectors.

“Obviously, his brother Rob has gone on to do good things in the professional environment up in Canberra, and Kemu has the potential, in the right environment, to progress further in his career,” said Toolan.

“I think he’s shown really classy touches in the games that I’ve seen him play and I think when he’s surrounded by some strong players he’s really going to shine.”

Toolan also highlighted the talent of 19-year-old outside back Sione Tui, who was man of the match in the Dewar Shield decider in a losing Harlequins side.

“Sione Tui showed his potential in that final when he scored that try. He told me it was from 90m, but it was probably closer to 70m,” laughed Toolan.

“But I think he’s got exceptional pace coupled with some impressive evasive skills. He’s an really exciting player with a bright future.”

Melbourne Rising play Fiji in round one.

FULL SQUAD

1 Fereti Sa'aga

2 Tom Moloney

3 Mees Erasmus

4 Anaru Rangi

5 Andrew Tuala

6 Feta Luamanu

7 Laurie Weeks

8 Pone Fa'amausili

9 Jermaine Ainsley

10 Trevor Hosea

11 Esei Haangana

12 Matt Philip

13 Sakaria Noa

14 Angus Cottrell

15 Richard Hardwick

16 Ikapote Tupai

17 George Noa

18 Rob Leota

19 Isi Naisarani

20 Michael Ruru

21 Harrison Goddard

22 Archie King

23 Jack Maddocks

24 Angelo Leaupepe

25 Sione Tui

26 Sione Tuipulotu

27 Billy Meakes

28 Fabian Goodall

29 Tom English

30 Kiti Ratu

31 Sefa Naivalu

32 Justin Masters

33 Kemu Valetini