Rebels to play in Super Rugby in 2024 but long-term future on shaky ground as voluntary administration looms
The Rebels will take to the field in 2024 but their long-term future is on a knife’s edge, with voluntary administration looming for the Melbourne-based Super Rugby franchise.
It can be confirmed Rebels powerbrokers met with Wexted Advisors, who provide advice to companies facing financial and strategic challenges, on Thursday.
It comes after Rugby Australia officials met with the Rebels on Wednesday and instructed the club to call in independent financial advisors to present what options they had.
The Australian reports the Rebels requested a $500,000 cash injection to pay the wages of their players and staff from RA in recent weeks but were denied the funding.
It’s been widely reported the Super Rugby franchise, the fifth and last Australian side to be included in the competition in 2011, has an estimated debt of $10 million.
What’s more, the Rebels’ chairman, Paul Docherty, who is the club’s major financial backer, is a director of 10 companies that have lost at least $70m. It’s believed Docherty’s preference is to remain as chair.
RA continues to insist they are committed to the “long-term viability of the professional game in Victoria”.
The Roar understands RA can only guarantee the Rebels’ future until the end of 2024. That is because of the participation agreement, which relies on the Melbourne club taking the field this year.
Beyond that though there are no promises.
The Rebels’ financial struggles have been widely known for several months, with whispers of RA considering a return to four Super Rugby franchises for some time.
Those fears ramped up after the RA board was shown the Rebels’ financial situation late last year, where they were horrified by what they saw.
Another possibility is that if RA was to let the Rebels go under they could pick up the franchise without inheriting the debt, which would fall back on the directors at the Super Rugby club, and then take over the franchise.
Whatever happens, the latest setback is another ugly look for Australian rugby ahead of the game’s most important four-year World Cup cycle.
With the governing body’s broadcast negotiations to ramp up ahead of the next cycle in 2026, the Rebels’ financial struggles won’t fill broadcasters with confidence that Super Rugby is a product worth investing in.
That comes despite Nine Entertainment and News Corp officials being blown away by last year’s incredible quarter-finals at the World Cup, where all four Tests went down to the wire.
There are fears too that the Rebels’ precarious position could also compromise the Victoria government’s package to host the World Cup final.
The Victorian government has long wanted to host the World Cup final, with the MCG able to host more than 100,000 fans, but it’s feared they could pull their package if RA decides to abandon the Rebels dream and forgo their national footprint.
The Victorian government is tipped to throw $50m at RA to host the World Cup final in 2027.
The Rebels have only made the Super Rugby finals once in their existence but have assembled one of their strongest rosters this year.
That comes after the Rebels, with the support of RA, lured Wallabies Taniela Tupou and Lukhan Salakaia-Loto to the franchise. Other notable recruits include former All Blacks back Matt Proctor and England-capped halfback Jack Maunder.
The franchise has also strengthened its coaching staff, hiring former Fiji assistant Brad Harris as their defence coach and Rob Taylor from Japan.