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Where is the Super going to come from in Melbourne

By Ben Smith
Queensland Reds' James O'Connor (C) poses for photos with fellow players during a media event ahead of the Super Rugby's super round in Melbourne on February 29, 2024. (Photo by William WEST / AFP)

This year’s Super Round in Melbourne launches for a third consecutive year this weekend but arguably in worst shape than the prior two years.

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What would make Super round, Super? Well, stars for a start.

Last year the likes of Ardie Savea, Beauden Barrett, Richie Mo’unga played for their clubs at this event, which still failed to pull a decent crowd.

This year they are all in Japan, draining Super Rugby of some of the biggest names in the game.

For the Blues, two All Blacks returned to the starting team, Ofa Tu’ungafasi and Akira Ioane, only for Rieko Ioane and Finlay Christie to drop out on rest week.

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Ioane is one of the biggest names left in Super Rugby who, at his best, is one of the few athletic talents in the game worth watching. In Melbourne six years ago he tore the Rebels apart in a memorable performance as a youngster. Having the Blues centre unavailable at the showcase event of the season is not great foresight.

The Blues and Highlanders have still named decent line-ups, with the latter possessing some exciting talent worth paying attention to.

But if Super round is to become anything, the competition’s biggest names like Ioane have to play. They need to be front and centre all week of the marketing and press as well. Speaking of which, has there been any?

The one Thursday media event featured a host of players not playing this weekend, Fergus Burke of the Crusaders, Caleb Muntz of the Fijian Drua, James O’Connor of the Reds, Gideon Wrampling of the Chiefs, TJ Perenara of the Hurricanes.

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Presumably all the players who are taking the field were too busy at training.

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With all the teams gathered in one city the opportunity to promote the weekend should take priority all week. Using the press to get as much exposure as possible, or at least try to.

The Wallabies and All Blacks were able to fill the MCG with 80,000 last year in the same city. Admittedly those national teams hold more pulling power, but all of those same players were there earlier in the year at Super Round, just wearing different colour jerseys.

So just what is the selling point of Super Round? How has this been sold to the Victorians? That matters. It’s hard to see what exactly it is from afar. The Victorian capital is an AFL-mad city. This is not a rugby town.

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Perhaps the governing bodies involved are content with the swathes of cash that have already been handed out by the state government. Every further expense just eats into margins when the money has been made.

Well another poor turnout at AAMI Park is just another bad look for a competition in need of a boost. An initiative like Super Round is supposed to put the spotlight on your game, but when you have less than a half-empty stadium all weekend, all you are doing is showing everyone the poor health of it.

A successful Super round, one that fills stands, ignites interest and brings the spotlight onto Super Rugby Pacific is one that rugby fans of these clubs want to see.

If this weekend is a third strike, Melbourne has to be out. If it is to continue, it needs to go to a rugby stronghold and become a spectacle that this competition sorely needs.

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