With the drama of the 2017 Super Rugby debacle over, Melbourne rugby can look forward to further developing their strong base of club and provincial players, which has in turn led to a record representation in the Wallabies squad this year.
What we have to look forward to is new ownership of the Rebels by the VRU, cleverly exercising a put option that kept ownership out of the ARU’s hands, a new CEO, a new and highly talented coach and many new staff, including a head of operations.
The unfortunate demise of the Western Force (not gone forever hopefully) has meant an injection of talent in the coaching and player department. Tetera Faulkner, a Moorabin Rams prop and Ben Daley, both capped Wallabies, will make their way from the Force to bolster the Rebels Prop stocks. The rampaging Amanaki Malfi has been re-signed and English Lock Geoff Parling will provide much needed firepower in the forward pack. Parling’s expertise in the lineout will be particulary welcome in a crucial part of the game that is lacking.
One dilemma that the Rebels face is in the hooker department. With the Wallabies crying out for focus and development on national team from the club to provincial level, who will fill the hooker position? Chibba Hanson has been consistent and generally favoured as starting hooker, with Siliva Siliva pushing his case for much of the season as the favourite, however, the meteoric rise of young Jordan Uelese to the Wallabies is a real selection quandry. Ultimately it will come down to performance on the training track and to David Wessel’s plans for the team. I for one would prefer Uelese to start, provided his lineout throwing can be consistent. The introduction of Parling is crucial here, as the hooker all too often gets the blame for bad lineouts while the jumpers get all the credit for good ones.
The backline will be a very interesting proposition next season, with the possibility of some young blood in the centres, but most likely with Reece Hodge as second playmaker. So who will be the fly-half? What about the full back? This leads us to the Rising, who have had as unsuccessful an NRC campaign as the Rebels had in the Super Rugby. However, to look at the ladder would be to do the Rising an injustice. Zane Hiltons young squad is made up of many club players, under 21, with the potential to make the step up to Super Rugby in near future. The pain and experience they gain now with hopefully build resilience for the future. Losses aside, there has been some exciting play from the two Jacks, McGregor and Maddocks, with Tuipulotu chiming in for some creative combination plays.
So with the rugby season coming to an end and the international tour about to begin, we can look forward to the rising stocks of Melbourne rugby staking a claim on the national and international stage in this great game called rugger.