‘Massive impact’: Wallabies gun says cutting Rebels will affect Victorian juniors – and points to John Eales medal winner as proof


Melbourne captain Rob Leota says Rob Valetini winning the John Eales Medal is proof of the talent in Victoria, warning the loss of the Rebels would have a “massive impact” on the state’s junior pathways.

Wallabies teammates, Leota and Valetini grew up playing with and against each other in Melbourne before the latter opted to take up a Super Rugby Pacific contract with the ACT Brumbies.

While the No.8 has flourished in the move to Canberra, this week named Australian rugby’s men’s player of the year, Leota said leaving Melbourne wasn’t the route that suited everyone.

With the start of the 2024 season two weeks away, the future of the Rebels is under huge threat beyond this year, with the financially-stricken club in voluntary administration.

Their dire financial position has many fearing the Rebels will be cut beyond 2024, with the franchise’s directors slamming Rugby Australia for sending them off a cliff and seeking to “turn the Member Unions on each other”.

Speaking at their season launch Leota says the players can only control what happens on the field.

“The big message is to control what we can control, we’re here for 2024, and our focus is to bring a title home for Melbourne,” he told AAP.

“It’s given us even greater purpose to really do a job and make Melbourne proud. We want to make the finals and have a really successful year as a club.”

Rob Leota is a product of the Melbourne rugby pathways. (Photo by Ryan Hiscott/Getty Images for Barbarians)

Leota said many Victorian youngsters looked up to the Rebels, and aspired to play for their state.

The Rebels have produced home-grown Wallabies like Leota, Jordan Uelese and Pone Fa’amausili, while Sione Tuipulotu kicked on after four seasons in Melbourne to represent Scotland.

Other Test players to come out of Victoria include Christian Lealiifano and former Wallabies coach and prop Ewen McKenzie.

“Before the Rebels, guys had to go and chase their dream elsewhere so taking away the team will have a massive impact on Victorian rugby,” the 25-year-old back-rower said.

“When kids see us in Victoria, we’re able to be those role models and when they look at us they see something to strive for.

“Robby Valetini won the John Eales Medal so the proof is in the pudding – it shows how much talent we have down here.

“Not everyone wants to move away … my family was massive for me growing up and I wanted to be around them.”

Rob Leota says cutting the Rebels would affect participation in Victoria. (Photo by Kelly Defina/Getty Images)

Leota sat out the entire 2023 season after rupturing his Achilles but returned to play in Australia’s disappointing World Cup campaign.

With Test players Taniela Tupou and Lukhan Salakaia-Loto bolstering their forward pack he believes Melbourne could be a genuine finals force this season.

“The forward pack is going to be a big strength of ours and that’s what we’re trying to be, a real dominant pack, and hopefully it will go a long way towards us winning,” he said.

The Rebels host Fijian Drua in their final pre-season match next Friday.

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