Melbourne Rebels Head of Academy, Pom Simona, says Victorian rugby talent continues to go from “strength to strength,” after Rugby Victoria completed its second and final Junior Rebels Academy combine at Brimbank Rugby Club on Wednesday.
Simona was thrilled by the week’s turnout, which saw over 170 players from the South East and North West community combines vie for a spot in the 2021 Under 16 and Under 18 Rebels Academy Squads.
“The turnout has been massive, particularly in Endeavour Hills – it was just incredible,” said Simona.
“We had over 90 players turn up to trial – which is phenomenal - and today we’ve got 75 to 80 players, so we’re very lucky to receive such incredible support from the local community.”
Simona praised the efforts of homegrown Melbourne Rebels Rob Leota, Jordan Uelese, Pone Fa'amausili, and Trevor Hosea, for engaging with their local communities and inspiring the next generation of Victorian rugby players.
“One of the great things about having players like Rob Leota, Pone, Trevor Hosea and Jordan Uelese, graduate to seniors and now to the Wallabies, is that it’s given a clear pathway for the young kids coming through to try and emulate, so the talent pool is getting stronger year after year because of that.
Junior Rebels Academy squads are traditionally selected from Victoria’s state competitions, but due to the recent Covid-19 pandemic, community rugby across the state was cancelled in 2020, forcing Pom and his team at Rugby Victoria “to get creative” and adapt.
“With obviously everything that happened this past year, we weren’t able to hold our regular state competitions and those Under-15 and Under-16’s state teams where we’d normally pick our Junior Rebels Academy, so it made things tricky,” said Simona.
“Obviously we were forced to get a bit creative because we didn’t have any tournaments to go by last year, so we came up with a strategy to hold two combines - South East and North West.
“Each combine has been focused on a bit of fitness and skill testing, but we’re also looking for the kids who don’t give up easily and those who show resilience. Another important factor for us is a kid who’s supportive to his team, an encouraging teammate and someone who gets back up if he’s beaten or tracks back if there’s a line break – things that you can’t measure really.
“This week went really well, and I think this will be a massive help for us to accurately try and find our next intake of Under-16 and Under-18 players and players we think are ready to take that next step in their rugby journey.”
Among the many keen-eyed onlookers were Melbourne Rebels' CEO, Baden Stephenson, Chairman, Paul Docherty, and Head Coach Dave Wessels, with the latter of the three providing an unforgettable speech to both age groups, something Simona believes his players will take with them for the rest of their rugby careers.
“To have Baden, Dave and Paul come down and lend their support, it was awesome and a great credit to the Rebels for staying engaged with the youth and the Victorian community.”
“For the kids who heard Dave speak today, I don’t think in all my time growing up I’ve experienced something like that - I’ve certainly never heard of a Super Rugby Head Coach coming down to anything underage and speak to the kids like Dave did.
“For the kids it’s something that will stay with them their whole rugby journey and hopefully it’s something that keeps the kids engaged in our game.
“Kids mature at a different age, so if they don’t make it this time around, hopefully they mature later on and hopefully that gives us future Rebels and future Wallabies.