The 2020 Super Rugby season kicks off on Friday night and there are a lot of unanswered questions hanging over Australia’s teams before round one.
RUGBY.com.au is running the rule over each of the Aussie teams as the 2020 kick-off looms. First up, the Rebels.
IN: Andrew Deegan, Cabous Eloff, Andrew Kellaway, Josh Kemeny, Boyd Killingworth, Gideon Koegelenberg, Frank Lomani, Ryan Louwrens, Declan Moore, Cameron Orr, Harry Potter, Ruan Smith, James Tuttle, Michael Wells
OUT: Ben Daley, Tetera Faulkner, Sam Talakai, Robbie Abel, Hugh Roach, Adam Coleman, Sam Jeffries, Will Genia, Harrison Goddard, Michael Ruru, Quade Cooper, Stu Dunbar, Sione Tuipulotu, Jack Maddocks
Jermaine Ainsley, Angus Cottrell, Cabous Eloff, Mees Erasmus, Pone Fa’amausili, Matt Gibbon, Esei Ha’angana, Richard Hardwick, Ross Haylett-Petty, Trevor Hosea, Luke Jones, Josh Kemeny, Boyd Killingworth, Gideon Koegelenberg, Rob Leota, Declan Moore, Isi Naisarani, Cameron Orr, Matt Philip, Anaru Rangi, Fereti Sa’aga, Ruan Smith, Jordan Uelese, Michael Wells, Brad Wilkin
Andrew Deegan, Tom English, Dane Haylett-Petty, Reece Hodge, Andrew Kellaway, Marika Koroibete, Frank Lomani, Ryan Louwrens, Campbell Magnay, Bill Meakes, Harry Potter, Matt To'omua, Semisi Tupou, James Tuttle
Will Genia’s absence is arguably the biggest hole the Rebels have to fill in 2020 and Lomani is the man they chose to lead the way. The Fijian international is just 23 but has proven himself to be an exciting talent, both in the NRC with the Fijian Drua and playing for Fiji in Test rugby as well. His combination with Matt To’omua will shape as an important one this season.
Props don’t normally generate big accolades but the recruitment of Ruan Smith to the Rebels will be an important one for Melbourne. The tighthead prop has combined with twin JP in Queensland for great success in recent seasons and will add some much-needed clout to the Rebels front row.
Can the Rebels address their second-half fadeouts?
The past two years have been almost carbon copies of each other for the Rebels. A super start to the year, wraps as serious conference contenders, and then an inconsistent second half of the year that leaves them clinging to playoff hopes. Both their 2018 and 2019 finals hopes came down to the final game of the regular season and both times they narrowly missed out. Rebels coach Dave Wessels believes he has learned from his mistakes and the club has changed their approach to preseason, with more focus on building team relationships, but the proof won’t be seen for some time.
Can Matt To'omua stake his Wallabies claim from Melbourne?
Matt To'omua will have a full Super Rugby season for the first time since 2016 and this year is his chance to put a stamp on the national 10 spot. To'omua has been open about his desire to stake a claim on that spot, though Bernard Foley is still technically eligible for Test duty. The Rebels flyhalf would surely be the leading Wallabies contender now but whether he can maintain that status will be critical for the Rebels and his own individual aspirations.
Will local recruitment be enough?
The Rebels have been open about their desire to add more Victorian talent to their roster in favour of bigger names and that strategy will be tested heavily this year. The 2020 Rebels have the highest number of locals in their squad that the club has ever had but fewer big names than they have often had as well. If their recruitment approach pays off, it will be a big thing for the game but if at least some of their local youngsters don't go on with their promise, the Rebels will be in trouble.
The Blue print
The Rebels have lost some names over the preseason but their attacking prowess still looks scary on paper. John Eales medallist Marika Koroibete is the obvious big name but they also have some uber-consistent backs in Billy Meakes, Tom English and Dane Haylett-Petty looking to line up this year. Campbell Magnay is on track to return to some of his best rugby after an injury-affected preseason and they will have plenty of exciting names to pick in that area.
The Rebels come into this season with the same CEO, coach, chairman and captain for the first time since the club’s inception. While that mightn’t seem like an earth shattering change from the outside, the turbulence the club has faced in recent seasons has certainly had an impact and consistency of leadership will be an important change in 2020.
The weak link
Where they have Wallabies left, right and centre in their backline, their pack looks a little skinnier. A number of preseason injuries have depleted their options and the shallowness of that department showed in their trial against the Brumbies last week.
What they need to win Super Rugby
The Rebels have shown potential in recent seasons but have fallen short at the final hurdle. If they can replicate strong starts in the back end of games and ensure as much of their first-choice pack is healthy as possible, then they could really contend.
Leading try scorer
No explanation needed.
Headline you won't see
Rebels just a one-man band
Netflix show they’re most like
The Good Place. A team attempting to make it to the pinnacle of Super Rugby but just as they seem on the right path, roadblocks begin to appear.