Category Archives: Melbourne Rebels

RaboDirect Rebels announce 2014 Leadership Group

RaboDirect Rebels Head Coach Tony McGahan has announced a new look, five man leadership group to drive the Rebels Super Rugby program in 2014.

Scott Higginbotham was named as Captain in December, and will be supported in the leadership group by Foundation Rebels Hugh Pyle and Laurie Weeks, as well as young gun Tom English and backrower Scott Fuglistaller.

“The Club are very fortunate to have these driven individuals,” McGahan said. “They will provide a clear direction and support for the playing group, both on and off the field, during the season.”

Pyle is the second-most capped current Rebel, and is on target to notch a half century of appearances in the 5 Stars against the Highlanders in Round 8. A towering lock, he carries great lineout responsibility and also has a great eye for a try. A vice captain for the past two seasons, Hugh has worked hard in the pre-season to impress McGahan with his training standards and is primed for a quality year in the Rebels’ forward pack.

“We’re extremely lucky with the playing group at the moment in that everyone is on the same page,” Pyle said. “This makes it extremely easy to lead as we just have to keep everyone on the same path they’re already on. The importance of the leadership group will show during the season, through how we respond to possible disappointments or rewards as a playing group. The five of us in the leadership group have all played together for a while, and I think we understand each others strengths and weaknesses; we aren’t afraid of being open with each other and expressing our opinions.” 

English’s first season of Super Rugby featured no shortage of highlights, including two tries in the Club’s first ever victory over the Waratahs. A former Australian Rugby Sevens representative, English shows maturity beyond his years and will provide leadership for the young backline. Despite only having played Super Rugby nine times, there are plenty of signs to suggest that the former Waverley College student is primed for a long and successful career. His elevation to the leadership group represents a great opportunity for Tom to further develop his Rugby and input into the Rebels program.

“Personally, to be in the leadership group in only my second year is quite a special thing,” he said. “I think the importance of the leadership group should not be underestimated, however the whole team is buying into the ideals brought in by Tony and not just the leadership group. It is the role of the leadership group to maintain these core values and provide standards that encourage everyone to constantly better each other.” 

Fuglistaller’s elevation comes off the back of an outstanding maiden campaign for the Club. The flanker made the most tackles of any player in the Australian conference, and was awarded the Club’s ‘Spirit of Weary Dunlop’ gong at the end of season awards night. A tenacious warrior on the Rugby field, Scott’s dedication to the game and constant pursuit of excellence are a shining example to all at the Club; he leads by example, both on and off the field.

Weeks joined the Club from the Queensland Reds in 2011, and has played 39 matches for the Rebels. Hugely popular within the team and also externally, where he thrills fans on social media and is the ambassador for the Club’s Little Rebels membership program, his elevation into the leadership group is reflective of the hard work he has put in throughout this tough pre-season. Weeks played every game in 2013, and forms part of the Club’s new-look front row following the recruitment of Max Lahiff and Toby Smith.

Higginbotham made a lasting impression in his first season at the Club, and despite a new coaching staff taking over the reins for 2014, there was little doubt that Scott was the front-runner for the captaincy. His commitment to improve throughout pre-season, following on from hip and shoulder surgery, helped cement the 23-time capped Wallaby the captaincy for the upcoming season. He has led with a ‘follow me’ attitude in the Club’s undefeated pre-season campaign, and Higginbotham will be able to rely on the four other members of the leadership group for significant support this year.

The Weary Dunlop Lunch, proudly presented by RaboDirect, also announced the Rebels 2014 squad, as well as offically welcoming Rugby Union to Melbourne for the 2014 Astron Life Super Rugby Season.


Rebels name team to face Reds

The RaboDirect Rebels have named a strong 26-man travelling party to head to Ballymore this Friday evening and take on the Queensland Reds.

Giant lock Cadeyrn Neville returns to the side for the first time this pre-season, after recovering from a hamstring injury, whilst Lopeti Timani also returns to the bench after being a late withdrawal against the Hurricanes last weekend.

There are four Foundation Rebels remaining at the Club in 2014, and all four have been named in the starting line-up to take on the Reds. Laurie Weeks will play against his old side, having been named at tighthead prop, while Hugh Pyle and Luke Jones start in the second row and Lachlan Mitchell is named on the right wing.

Other features of the side include Tamati Ellison starting his first match for the Rebels, partnering Mitch Inman in the centres, and young Queenslander Sean McMahon starting in the back row.

Twitter: @MelbourneRebels v @Reds_Rugby #REDvREB

RaboDirect Rebels jersey numbers, vs. Queensland Reds:

  1. Toby Smith,
  2. Pat Leafa
  3. Laurie Weeks
  4. Hugh Pyle
  5. Luke Jones
  6. Sean McMahon
  7. Scott Fuglistaller
  8. Scott Higginbotham (C)
  9. Luke Burgess
  10. Bryce Hegarty
  11. Tom English
  12. Tamati Ellison
  13. Mitch Inman
  14. Lachlan Mitchell
  15. Angus Roberts
  17. Steve Fualau
  18. Paul Alo-Emile
  19. Cadeyrn Neville
  20. Colby Fainga’a
  21. Ben Meehan
  22. Telusa Veainu
  23. Tom Kingston
  24. Max Lahiff
  25. Jason Woodward
  26. Lopeti Timani

Stars Align for RaboDirect Rebels Hooker Pat Leafa

RaboDirect Rebels Hooker Pat Leafa admits that the stars have aligned for him ahead of the 2014 Super Rugby season.

Leafa sympathises with fellow rake Tom Sexton, whose season is over after suffering a ruptured Anterior Cruciate Ligament, however that disappointing injury gives Pat a great chance of starting against the Cheetahs in the Rebels’ first match of the Super Rugby season, on Friday February 28th at AAMI Park.

“I really feel for Tom (Sexton),” he says. “We all know as Rugby players that injuries are a genuine risk and possibility, but it’s never easy to get through them. Tom’s a really nice guy, and I’m sure he will come back better from this setback.

“The door for me to be the starting hooker is the most open it could be right now. With Tom injured, (Foundation Rebel) Ged Robinson departing to New Zealand and Shota Horie arriving late after his Japanese season, there’s a great opportunity for me and I just need to try and grab it with both hands.”

Leafa has played substantial minutes in both of the Club’s pre-season matches thus far, with trialist Steve Faulau the only alternative available to Tony McGahan on both occasions. Pat has impressed at scrum time, and with ball in hand, though slippery conditions have made delivery into the lineout a battle at times.

“I was really happy with the scrum performance on Saturday night in Geelong, against the Hurricanes,” says Pat. “To come up against an All Black capped front row (Ben Franks, Dane Coles and John Schwalger) and actually get the better of them was fantastic.

“Tony was pleased with some aspects of the game, but we know we have plenty of work left to do. It’s good to develop winning habits, but it’s important not to get carried away with pre-season results.

“I’m working really hard on my throwing to get it to where it needs to be. I’m prepared to do as much extra work as required to get that spot on.”

Leafa enters his second season at the Rebels, after making substitute appearances against both the British & Irish Lions and Brumbies in 2013, and the popular hooker is enjoying working with the new-look young squad assembled in an attempt to improve the win/loss ratio immediately.

“It’s a really good group of guys here, and there is a really good spirit. Tony has come in and works us very hard; he’s never 100% happy, which keeps us working to be better.”

Leafa enjoyed family support when the Club ventured to the border to play a home match against the Waratahs in sweltering conditions.

“I have two cousins who have moved to Wagga Wagga, so they came and watched in Albury and brought all their kids which was fantastic. It’s great to have your family there to support you, though I’m pretty sure the kids were more focused on the goodies in the Rebels show bags than watching me play! My grandmother comes and watches all the games at AAMI Park; last year I sat with her for a lot of them, but hopefully this year she’ll be watching me out on the field more!”

A destructive ball runner, with an eye for the try line, Leafa’s destiny appears in his own hands ahead of a potential breakthrough season

Rebels Extend Squad with young talent

20 year old scrumhalf Jock Merriman has joined the RaboDirect Rebels on a six week supplementary contract. Merriman will provide competition for Luke Burgess and Ben Meehan, with scrumhalf Nic Stirzaker set to miss six weeks with an ankle injury.

Merriman, a former Australian U20s representative and Australia A Schoolboys captain, has been a member of the Australian Rugby Union’s National Academy for the last two seasons.

“I am very excited to be down here,” Merriman said. “There are a few familiar faces here from Sydney University, such as Sam Jeffries, and I’ll be staying with him and Alex Rokobaro initially before I move in with a Rebels Board Member; they’ll be able to show me the ropes around Melbourne.

Merriman is familiar with Rebels’ Assistant Coach Sean Hedger, having worked with him at the National Academy, and is looking forward to again linking up with him.

“I got to know Sean well in Sydney last year, and also had a few sessions with Tony McGahan when he helped us out, so it will be good to be coached by them again. Sean called and said Nic was going to have a stint on the sidelines, so obviously I jumped at the opportunity (to come down).”

Merriman is not expecting to make his Super Rugby debut whilst in Melbourne, however sees plenty of positives in the opportunity presented to him.

“Coming down here was a little unexpected, but I have come with the goal in mind of becoming a better player,” he says. “It would be a bit eager of me to expect to play any Super Rugby, but if that chance came then I would definitely try and make the most of it.”

Merriman meets up with the squad immediately, and will join locals Martin Naufahu and Joe Kamana in training with the Rebels. Wing Kamana impressed while playing the first half in the Club’s trial win against the Waratahs in Albury, as well as featuring in the matchday squad against the Hurricanes in Geelong, while Naufahu was in the Albury matchday squad.

2013 Australian Schoolboys representative Fereti Sa’aga is also combining his training duties between the Rebels and the Victorian U20s squad, while trialist hooker Steve Faulau remains with the Club as an injury replacement for Tom Sexton who was ruled out for the 2014 Super Rugby Season with a new injury.

Steve plays for the West Harbour Club in Sydney.

Rebels Injury Report – Reds Trial

The RaboDirect Rebels have come through unscathed from their 24-22 victory over the Hurricanes at Simonds Stadium, with no further injuries to report.

With Jack Debreczeni returning earlier than expected from a hamstring injury, the flyhalf will be aiming to put himself in contention for the final pre-season trial against the Queensland Reds this Friday evening at Ballymore. Scrumhalf Nic Stirzaker’s ankle injury has now been assessed, with the youngster likely to miss between six and eight weeks, with a temporary third scrumhalf to be announced shortly.

Injured RaboDirect Rebels as of 10/02/2014

Tom Sexton (Hooker), Knee – Season
Chris Thomson (Lock), Wrist, Knee – Indefinite
Jack Debreczeni (Flyhalf), Hamstring – Available for selection
Cadeyrn Neville (Lock), Hamstring, 1 Week
Nic Stirzaker (Scrumhalf), Ankle, 6-8 Weeks              


RaboDirect Rebels Head Coach Tony McGahan continues to shape his playing roster, as the Club prepare for their only 2014 Victorian pre-season trial, against the Hurricanes at Simonds Stadium in Geelong this Saturday evening.

All Black centre Tamati Ellison is named for the first time in Rebels colours, after arriving in Melbourne from his Japanese Club commitments, while former Sydney University lock Sam Jeffries has also been named to feature for his new Club for the first time.

Hugh Pyle has been scheduled to feature in both halves after his successful return from injury in the Rebels victory over the Waratahs last weekend, while local Dewar Shield and Moorabbin Rams winger Joe Kamana will again play on the wing after impressing last weekend in Albury.

With temperatures again tipped to soar in Geelong, McGahan will rotate his squad against a Hurricanes side that could feature up to nine All Blacks representatives.

Twitter: @MelbourneRebels v @HurricanesRugby #REBvHUR

Trial Two: RaboDirect Rebels Team to play the Hurricanes at Simonds Stadium, Geelong  7:30PM

1st Half: Jason Woodward, Tom Kingston, Tom English, Mitch Inman, Telusa Veainu, Bryce Hegarty, Luke Burgess; Lopeti Timani, Sean McMahon, Jordy Reid, Luke Jones, Hugh Pyle, Laurie Weeks, Pat Leafa, Max Lahiff

2nd Half: Alex Rokobaro, Lachlan Mitchell, Tamati Ellison, Lalakai Foketi, Joe Kamana, Angus Roberts, Ben Meehan, Scott Higginbotham, Scott Fuglistaller, Colby Fainga’a, Sam Jeffries, Hugh Pyle, Paul Alo-Emile, Steve Faulau, Toby Smith

RaboDirect Rebels Injury Update ahead of Super Rugby

PLAYER (POSITION)                    INJURY                                ESTIMATED RETURN

Tom Sexton (Hooker)                    Knee                                     Season

Chris Thomson (Lock)                   Wrist, Knee                           Indefinite

Jack Debreczeni (Flyhalf)              Hamstring                              3 Weeks

Cadeyrn Neville (Lock)                  Hamstring                              3 Weeks

Nic Stirzaker (Scrumhalf)              Ankle                                     TBC                

Head of Athletic Performance Bryce Cavanagh:

“It’s great for young Sam Jeffries to be returning to full training after missing out against the Waratahs. He’s a young bloke who has had an injury setback, but he has worked super hard to get back and give himself every opportunity to play this year. While he has been injured, he has worked incredibly hard in the gym and he has actually put on 4kg of lean muscle while he has been out, without any increase to his fat mass. That dedication to his rehab will show when he starts to play.”

“Touch wood, we are fairly happy with having a small injury list going into our second trial. We’ve worked hard to maintain a low injury rate, and so far so good. WE have only had two soft-tissue injuries this pre-season, and that is something that the medical and S&C guys can be proud of. Now we are into in-season mode, it’s our job to get as many blokes available for selection and let the players create a few selection headaches for the coaches.”


The RaboDirect Rebels have named their team as they host the NSW Waratahs in Albury in their first trial match of the 2014 pre-season.

With temperatures predicted to soar over 40 degrees, the match will be played in quarters and will feature nearly the entire Rebels squad, as well as two trialists.

The squad has been put through its toughest off season ever under new Head Coach Tony McGahan, while Japanese International Shota Horie and All Black Tamati Ellison are still yet to join the squad following their Club commitments in Japan.

Highlights of the squad include the return of 2014 Wallaby aspirants Scott Higginbotham and Hugh Pyle from shoulder surgery, as well nine contracted Rebels being selected to make their debut. Luke Burgess, Tom Kingston and Lopeti Timani will all feature against their old side for the first time in a Rebels jersey.

1st Quarter: Tom Kingston, Alex Rokobaro, Lalakai Foketi, Lachlan Mitchell, Joe Kamana, Angus Roberts, Luke Burgess; Scott Higginbotham (C), Jordy Reid, Sean McMahon, Lopeti Timani, Luke Jones, Laurie Weeks, Steve Foulau, Max Lahiff.

2nd Quarter: Tom Kingston, Alex Rokobaro, Lachlan Mitchell, Lalakai Foketi, Joe Kamana, Angus Roberts, Ben Meehan; Scott Higginbotham (C), Jordy Reid, Sean McMahon, Lopeti Timani, Luke Jones, Cruze Ah-Nau, Steve Foulau, Eddie Aholelei

3rd Quarter: Jason Woodward, Tom Kingston, Tom English, Mitch Inman, Telusa Veainu, Bryce Hegarty, Nic Stirzaker; Lopeti Timani, Scott Fuglistaller, Colby Fainga’a, Luke Jones, Hugh Pyle, Paul Alo-Emile, Pat Leafa, Toby Smith

4th Quarter: Jason Woodward, Tom Kingston, Tom English, Mitch Inman, Telusa Veainu, Bryce Hegarty, Nic Stirzaker; Colby Fainga’a, Scott Fuglistaller, Sean McMahon, Luke Jones, Hugh Pyle, Paul Alo-Emile, Pat Leafa, Toby Smith


RaboDirect Rebels front-rower Toby Smith has had a fairly massive few months. From winning his second straight Super Rugby title with the Chiefs, to an ITM Cup Campaign with Waikato alongside Paul Alo-Emile, moving back to Australia to join the Rebels and then getting married last weekend, Smith hasn’t had a lot of downtime; not that he is complaining.

“I had a short break after the ITM Cup for three weeks, but moved over to Melbourne and joined the Club in December,” he says. It’s been really good getting to know the guys; they’ve all been very welcoming. It’s a tight group, and it’s great to get to know the lads both on and off the field.

“When I first moved over, I was actually living with Scott Fuglistaller which was great. I was really looking forward to coming back from New Zealand after Christmas, and I am feeling a lot more settled now that my wife and baby have come back over with me. We have our own place in Flemington, which is nice and close to training and seems a good place to live.”

Smith may have a Kiwi accent, but the loosehead prop has moved to Melbourne knowing that a good run of form may see him rewarded with a Wallaby call-up.

“I was actually born in Townsville, and moving back to Australia the goal one day is to be a Wallaby. However, initially my goal is to just prove myself to my teammates and our members here at the Rebels in my new environment; I’m not getting ahead of myself with my thinking. First and foremost, I want to get into the playing 23 and then try and score a starting spot.

“I’m doing what my folks did in moving to Australia for a new challenge and something new and different. They spent about two years over here in the late 1980’s, which was when I was born, so it’s good to follow suit.”

Smith has already been exposed to Wallaby Scrum Coach Andrew Blades, and believes that his involvement in pre-season has been a positive. Further, the Rebels’ newly-assembled coaching panel have really impressed Toby.

 “The coaching group are really good, and they have a lot of attention to detail. There’s no shortage of clarity around the game plan and the patterns that we are going to run, so it’s good to learn quickly and be up to speed with the other boys despite joining up with the squad a little later.”

“It is great when the national team coaches are able to share their wealth of knowledge with us. Our scrum sessions have benefitted hugely from the work we have done with Andrew Blades and Matt Cockbain, and we are improving as a result.”

Smith admits that last week’s soaring temperatures were a new experience for him, but sees the tough training conditions as a positive in the long run.

“The weather last week, with five days over forty degrees, was certainly like nothing I have ever experienced before,” he says. “It was very tough training in that sort of heat, but the boys got through it well. The coaching group helped by bringing training outside of the hottest part of the day which made a difference, but we still had to make sure we watched our fluids both throughout the day and also when we got home as well.

“We’ll definitely be able to draw on that hard fitness training, and it helps build character and gets you tighter as a team; hopefully that helps us on the field when we find ourselves under pressure. The intensity is pretty similar to what I was used to at the Chiefs gaining the right fitness base, but the heat here is obviously the difference; it can be pretty hard when it’s so warm.”

Smith is the only current Rebel to have held aloft the Super Rugby trophy, and his experience will be invaluable in helping guide a young squad towards eventual success.

 “There are aspects I can hopefully bring (to the team) after winning the last two Super Rugby titles with the Chiefs,” he says. “I am just working out when there are opportunities for me to speak up and add knowledge to try and assist the team, but it is already a very professional environment and everything is very well run.

 “The Rebels played really well against us when I was at the Chiefs last year, and put us under pressure through a good team performance and some good individual performances. I think with the players we have coming through, we have the potential to be a good team. The training is going really well, and it’s exciting to think about getting on the field in those pre-season matches and then starting Super Rugby.”

The first pre-season match is just over a week away, with the Rebels taking on the Waratahs on the border in Albury. With the retirement of Nic Henderson, the Rebels front row is bereft of international experience, and an excited Smith admits that coming up against a Wallaby-laden Waratahs pack will require a big performance.

 “I can’t wait to get on the field as a Rebel!” Smith admits. “I’m looking forward to seeing where we are at, and having a good crack at it on the field and seeing where we need to work on things before Super Rugby begins. We will sit down next week and have a look at the strengths and weaknesses of the likely opposition; there are lots of internationals there, so it’s going to be a tough game for sure in the front row. It’s a good challenge to measure ourselves against the best, and see what we still have to work on.”

Overall, the quiet yet determined 25 year old is enjoying being in a city that perhaps offers a little more entertainment than his old home.

“Melbourne is a huge city compared to Hamilton, and I am still getting used to that; the GPS in the car helps me out a lot, but I’m still getting used to the traffic,” he says. “I’ve checked out Williamstown Beach and South Melbourne Markets, a few little things like that, and I am looking forward to getting to know the city even better.”

 “Now that I’m living close to the racecourse, Scotty (Fuglistaller) is keen for me to host a BBQ breakfast before the races next year, and a few people back home want to come over for it too!”


World Cup winning Wallaby Matt Cockbain is well placed to comment on the importance of the new National Rugby Championship (NRC). The RaboDirect Rebels Assistant Coach finished his career off with a stint in the now-defunct Australian Rugby Championship (ARC) in 2007, a competition he thought ended prematurely.

“I was asked by Gary Gray and Rod Macqueen to come down and be a part of the original Melbourne Rebels in the 2007 Australian Rugby Championship, when I was initially going to retire from playing,” Cockbain explains. “It was the coming together of a number of Sydney & Brisbane club players, but we were very short on experience. That was something which I was able to provide with my background. At the age of 35, I was running around with the young blokes and some of the players in the current Rebels I’ve played with or against!

“I think that if we had kept the ARC going beyond 2007 we would not have a problem with depth at Wallaby level. I know the ARC lost some money, but I believe it would have become financially viable over time and it needed to be persevered with. Now it is time to move forward and it’s really exciting that the NRC has arrived. It will push us in the right direction to develop players and coaches which is great for Australian Rugby.”

Cockbain is in his third year as an Assistant Coach at the Rebels, providing some stability to a new look coaching team, and admits he is pleasantly surprised he has stayed in Melbourne for the past six years.

“The amazing thing about it, and I have said this to a few people over the last couple of years, but I certainly wouldn’t have thought that I would end up living in Melbourne and coaching a Super Rugby team,” he says! “It just goes to show you how far we have come since the early days, when there were only three Australian teams in Super Rugby. It’s quite surreal that I am still here six years later, and that a non-Rugby state now has a fully fledged Super Rugby team.”

“I’m proud of the fact I have been involved at the Rebels since 2007, to keep a little stability among the group in a time of many changes. I also help to ingrain what being a Rebels means to some of the newer players and that’s something I can speak about from experience. In saying that, there have been a lot of great new challenges for me, and moving with change, trying to be a better coach is one of the key things I’m looking to do.”

Cockbain has been impressed by the players this pre-season, and believes there is no excuse for poor performances in 2014.

“All of the returning Rebels have lifted their performance this pre-season. When you have a big change in the coaching team, you do see a real spike as the players want to show the new people how much they want to be a part of the future. It’s almost a case of proving yourself again in front of a different set of eyes, and different sets of eyes value different assets. That ability to work hard and complete back to back efforts is something that the coaching group is pushing really hard.  We are going to try hard to out-work sides; if we can do that, then success will come.

“There have been some different philosophies around conditioning this preseason with Bryce Cavanagh starting and the guys have been working extremely hard. Players always crave a little bit of variety, and it’s been good for them to hear from new people. We have also had Andrew Blades from the Wallabies come down to work with the forwards on the scrum, and his knowledge and experience in the program is highly valued.”

In regards to players, it is only natural that Matt is keen to discuss the Club’s locking stocks, as a former second rower himself. It’s not only the Clubs experienced locks that have impressed him either, with the attitude of Sam Jeffries making a big mark.

“Sam’s willingness to work is great, and he is a really down to earth guy. He is polite, says please and thank you, and looks you in the eye when he talks to you; he is an honest, well raised kid. The way he has responded to his injury is a credit to him.

“After making the decision to offer him a contract, he then went out and damaged his ankle in the next session. It has put him out for six weeks since he did it in December, and at the time we thought it could be even longer. But there was no chance of taking that offer away. He’s working hard to get back out there shortly and I expect him to progress quite quickly. In the limited training that he did with us, and from what we have seen in the past, he works very hard around the field and is very strong in the lineout. We see a lot of untapped potential for him within a professional environment, and we’re very excited by that.

“This year, Hugh Pyle, Cadeyrn Neville and Luke Jones are definitely guys who will be looking to step up a gear, and there are a few others. I think that the program is here for them now and depending on how quickly they want to take that on, they can do it. They really need to produce when the heat’s on, at game time, and hopefully we will see them in Ewen McKenzie’s plans.”

So it is that Cockbain is optimistic ahead of the new season; with less than two weeks to go until the Club’s first pre-season match, against the Waratahs in Albury, Rebels members won’t have long left to see the results of a gruelling pre-season first hand.

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