Just days before making the decision to go into administration, the Melbourne Rebels were expressing nothing but excitement for the Super Rugby Pacific campaign ahead.
The club had recruited some big talents for 2024 and optimism was growing around the future of the playing stocks. Those signings were with an eye on the future, but received criticism given the status of the club’s finances.
Now, with Rugby Australia working with the Victorian government to see the Rebels fulfil their Super Rugby Pacific and Super W duties in 2024, the big contracts have brought about big questions.
Former Wallaby prop and current Melbourne Rebels General Manager Nick Stiles talked through the signings in an interview last Wednesday which was released on Sunday.
“Lukhan Salakaia-Loto, Taniela Tupou, Matt Proctor all signed multi-year deals,” he told the Pick and Drive Rugby Union Podcast.”We all feel that they’re very experienced players and bring a point of difference to us that we feel will take our game to the next level.
“Taniela’s scrummaging, his ball carry, the impact that he has. Lukhan’s a massive human. I do not know how the Wallabies did not take him to the World Cup, but to be honest, it’s something that has worked out well for us because he has been at the Rebels now since I think he arrived in late August. So, now he’s been with us for multiple months of training. He’s a deadset leader within the group.
“One of the things that I know there’s a big point of difference around the squad this year is accountability. Rather than it coming purely from the coach, we’ve got some players that have come into the group, some that were already here, that have evolved as leaders and have brought a really high level of accountability and Lukhan is one of those players. Him being here since (August) means he’s a genuine part of the squad and a genuine leader, so he’s been fantastic.
“And then Matty Proctor. After losing (Reece) Hodge, who’s a fantastic player, could play multiple positions and brought a real level of calmness, we wanted to make sure we replaced Hodgey with someone like Matty Proctor who could do the same thing; an experienced player, he’s won a Super Rugby title, so he knows what you’ve got to do to win, he’s experienced through his time in Europe and he’s come in and brought a real level of experience to other players around him, knowing that we’ve got some younger centres and outside backs. So, he’s been great.
“We’re really happy that even though we have lost some really big names and legends of the club, that the people we’ve brought in will really offset those guys.
“The other point that I want to really highlight is that while we did have that senior group leave, the bulk of the squad now is coming into their third or fourth year with the club, so there’s been a real high level of cohesion amongst that group and we’ve tried to be a bit different about building that cohesion.
“Ben Darwin, an old Wallaby teammate of mine, front row partner, I’m a big believer in his simple philosophy about the whole cohesion and how we can bridge the gap without a third tier is a real thing, it’s not make-believe, it’s not pretend, it’s real. So, over the last few years we’ve had most of our players playing out of one club in Brisbane. So, trying to drive the cohesion in those younger guys there. We’ve been proactive about organising extra games overseas internally as well, so we felt we’ve done the best that we can to drive that cohesion.”