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Picking a starting Rebels team for round one of Super Rugby Pacific

By Jack O'Rourke
(Photos by Chris Hyde/Daniel Pockett/Getty Images)

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The Rebels will enter their 12th year with a new coach and determination to exceed expectations in Super Rugby Pacific. Most pundits aren’t giving them much of a chance after losing some high profile players, including Markia Koroibete and Isi Naisarani. 

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They have managed to retain 26 players retained from last year’s campaigns, and the players seem to be buying into coach Kevin Foote’s vision. If they get things to click they could upset a few teams. 

Before the season kicks off, we have selected what we believe will be the starting lineup for the Rebels come round one of Super Rugby Pacific.

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Pablo Matera + Scott Robertson – Media 14 Dec
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Pablo Matera + Scott Robertson – Media 14 Dec

While pre-season form and fitness may still yet play a part in who is picked come the beginning of the campaign, these selections are largely based on the availability and squad status of players at the time of writing.

1. Cameron Orr 

Cameron Orr has seized all his opportunities since joining the Rebels and this year is firmly in the frame to nab a starting spot at loosehead prop. With injuries plaguing hulking Wallaby squad member Pone Fa’amausili towards the back end of Super Rugby, an uninterrupted season from Orr will give him the opportunity to prove that he can mix it with the best.

2. Jordan Uelese

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Finally fit and raring to go heading into a season opener, Uelese should have a lock on the starting hooker spot. Making it through a Wallabies campaign unscathed and being able to enjoy some downtime in Melbourne, it’s time for the 25-year old to make a mark on the competition.

3. Cabous Eloff

The Big Caboose has earned a cult following down in Melbourne due to his big frame and his choice of match-day attire (hint: pink Budgy Smugglers.) The South African-born tighthead prop doesn’t make the most glamorous plays but makes up for it in work rate and scrum nous. 

4. Matt Philip 

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Back from his French sojourn with Pau, Philip fills a gap much needed by the Rebels and is expected to slot straight back into the starting side. His leadership and line-out expertise were sorely missed last year. Since regaining the Wallabies, he is now considered one of the best locks in Australia. His involvement will be pivotal for the Melbourne Rebels if they are to mount a challenge. 

5. Trevor Hosea 

A credit to the emerging rugby pathways in Victoria, 22-year old Trevor Hosea is among a number of ‘Burn Boys’ making a name for themselves in Super Rugby. Hosea has plenty of potential but needs to step up his physical presence in contact. The rangy lock toured with the Wallabies and has been focusing on putting on some size for the Rebel’s 2022 season in an effort to lock up the second spot in the second row. 

6. Rob Leota 

Another ‘Burn Boy’, Leota had a breakout season last year, getting a call up for national honours in the gold jersey. His aggressive play and hard carrying has earned him the reputation of an enforcer, but he also has silky hands and an ability to offload. Look out for his distinctive mullet. 

7. Richard Hardwick 

Namibian-born flanker Richard Hardwick was on the radar for the Wallabies after a massive season with the Rebels in 2019, but since then has fallen back in the pecking order. At his best, Hardwick is a damaging ball-carrier and is Pocock-esque over the ball. The Rebels have a number of players who can play in the back row, for the best balance Hardwick is poised to get the first crack at the coveted number seven jersey. 

8. Michael Wells 

Since joining the Rebels from the Waratahs in 2020, Wells has embodied the team’s values of hard work, determination and grit. By no means the flashiest player, Wells is built tough and gets through a ton of work that most backrowers shy away from. 

Wells was recently named as captain for the 2022 season amongst a leadership group that includes Matt Philip and Reece Hodge, a just reward for a player that has embraced the Melbourne lifestyle. He can play throughout the back row but expect him to pack down at the back of the scrum to open the season. 

9. Joe Powell 

The move to Melbourne has re-invigorated Joe Powell’s career. Smokin’ Joe’s ball service and darting runs from the base of the ruck got the Rebels rolling when they needed it most last year. With the departure of Fiji international Frank Lomani, he will now be battling it out with recent Fiji debutant Moses Sorovi for the starting nine jersey. 

10. Carter Gordon 

Listed as the lone flyhalf in the Rebel’s squad, there are great expectations on young gun Carter Gordon. It has all but been confirmed by Rebels coach Kevin Foote that the blonde-haired, blue-eyed playmaker from Queensland will get first crack after impressing during Super Rugby Trans-Tasman. Gordon has packed on the muscle to prepare himself for the upcoming season, but by all reports hasn’t lost the ball-playing wizardry that caught the eye of rugby fans last year. 

11. Lachie Anderson

There is no doubt that the biggest loss for the Rebels this year is Wallaby winger Marika Koroibete, and there are plenty of outside backs vying to take his place. Perhaps best positioned to get first shot is Lachie Anderson. 

A sevens player by trade, he signed with the Rebels last year and has switched his focus to the fifteens game, where he can use his pace out wide and his brilliant tackling technique. 

Look out for Ilikena Vudogo to get a chance too. 

12. Matt To’omua

Veteran playmaker Matt To’omua is set to slot into inside centre after overcoming lingering concussion symptoms that plagued him most of last season.

 To’omua’s role will be crucial in easing the burden off Gordon in his first full season in Super Rugby. He still has plenty to offer the Rebels with his ball-playing and kicking skills, and the side needs a big season from him. 

13. Stacey Ili

Outside centre is an interesting one, following the departure of Campbell Magnay and the news that Jeral Skelton has been converted to a back. Stacey Ili was the incumbent last year, and has done nothing to suggest he should be dropped from the side. He had a strong campaign for Hawkes Bay in the Bunnings NPC and played for Samoa. 

Rebels desperately need some punch at outside centre, and new recruit Ray Nu’u from Otago may be in with a chance. 

14. Andrew Kellaway

The 2021 Rugby Australia Rookie of the Year will take his place on the right wing after a stellar debut season in gold. The Decision to return home and sign with the Rebels has paid off in spades. He was one of the best backs last year in Super Rugby and his efforts earned him a call up for national duties. Kellaway scored nine tries in 13 matches in 2021 for the Wallabies, and it is hoped that his try-scoring ability will translate to wins for the Rebels this year. 

15. Reece Hodge

Reece Hodge is expected to play fullback for the Rebels this season but is considered a swiss-army knife in the backline, having the ability to fill in pretty much anywhere. He has previously expressed a desire to play flyhalf in the past, but fullback may be the position where is most valuable to Rebels, and he may look to make the position permanent with the race for the Wallaby fifteen jersey wide open. His booming boot will help the Rebels.

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