Hodge hopeful of round one return

Super Rugby
by Sam Phillips

Rebels star Reece Hodge is hopeful of making a return to rugby in Melbourne's opening round showdown with the Brumbies.

Hodge has not played any rugby since breaking his ankle while training in the lead up to last year's Spring Tour and was sorely missed.

The Australians limped to one win - against Italy - in Hodge's absence and his versatility remains an invaluable asset for the Rebels and Wallabies alike.

While he won't be rushing back at risk of making the injury worse, Hodge is racing the clock to be fit come February 15.

"I’m hoping for round one at this stage," Hodge said at the team's Ballarat preseason camp.

"I have a bit of a skinny timeline to get there before then but the luxury of us having a bye in round two means it will either be round one or round three.

"I’ll let the medical staff make the decision in the end but it’s going well at the moment."

Those words will be music to coach Dave Wessels' ears.

Hodge will be a critical link in a backline led by Will Genia and Quade Cooper.

The latter will play his first game in Rebels colours when they face the Brumbies in Canberra on Saturday and Wessels has been impressed with his preseason work to date.

"Quade’s a special player, he’s one of the more recognisable names in our sport and there is a reason for that," Wessels said.

"What he’s brought so far is just a real willingness to want to get better and to compete in every moment.

"He’s not only doing that in his only way - he’s lifting the level of the group - he’s been excellent so far."

Looking ahead to Saturday's trial, Wessels wants to see some improvement in two key areas.

Defence is front of mind and the new look attack - to be led by Cooper - will also come under the microscope.

"To be honest I just want to see the guys in competition, in live fire situations," Wessels said.

"When it’s real and the opposition are real and the pressures of the game are real that sometimes brings different things out in people.

"I want people to stand up and back up what they talk about, what they say.

"We still have three weeks to go until our first game so there are parts of our game that I know are not ready to go yet.

"General play attack, general play defence, some of our kicking stuff, that’s the real stuff that we want to try to be good at this week.

"We’re looking forward to it."