The Melbourne Rebels have no excuses for not making the finals this year, and with the team they have assembled they should do considerably better than just that. The backline is loaded with Wallaby talent and the depth is phenomenal, while the only potential weakness is in the front row.
The Rebels have recruited extremely well for a second year in a row, with the result that their team is, on paper, possibly the best in the competition. Their headline recruit is Quade Cooper, who will solve their main problem from last year of a poor five-eighth. They have also brought in gun backrower Isi Naisarani, who will add punch to their attack, and second rower Luke Jones, who has played all over the world and will bring a wealth of experience.
Matt Toomua will come into the side when his European commitments finish up in May, although he may be rested a fair bit with the World Cup coming up. The star-studded backline will have the depth to cope with mandatory rests for key Wallabies, as the utility value of Reece Hodge, Jack Maddocks and Toomua will allow the line to be reshuffled as needed.
Melbourne have a potential backline for the finals made up of Will Genia, Cooper, Maddocks, Toomua, Hodge, Marika Koroibete and Dane Haylett-Petty. That collection of names wouldn’t look out of place as a Wallaby starting line-up, and if the Rebels can fire most of them probably will be!
The only concerns for the Rebels will be if the connections take time to form, particularly around new playmaker Cooper. While he and Genia should have no trouble reforging their 2011 title winning combination, the outside backs need to be in sync with the mercurial star as well. An injury to Cooper could also derail Melbourne’s run, especially before Toomua arrives.
The match in Canberra tomorrow night will give us some idea of where the Rebels are teamwise, although it would not be a surprise to see them take time to gel.