Emerging Melbourne Rebels’ lock, Josh Canham, says he’s proud to be part of a new generation of homegrown Victorian players rising through the club ranks, ready to stake their claim on the Super Rugby stage.
Canham is one of several talented locals preparing themselves for the Rebels’ opening day of pre-season, kicking off in October.
“I’m very proud to be part of this group coming through", said Canham.
“A lot of people didn’t think it was possible playing rugby in Victoria as compared to other sports like football and basketball.
“With the growth we’ve seen in the past few years, and the experiences I’ve had, and the relationships I’ve made, I’m really glad I kept with it.”
Following a record number of Victorian-based players representing the Rebels in Season 2021, and the recent signings of eight Rebels’ Academy members, Canham believes it’s an exciting time for the rising community, which despite enduring six devastating lockdowns, remains as resilient as ever.
“The growth the game has seen in our state has been fantastic and testament to the pathways in place, and the hard work put in by all the players, coaches and volunteers.”
The Harlequins’ product experienced a whirlwind first season with his hometown Super Rugby club, quickly catching his new teammates' attention during last year’s pre-season, before spending large periods of the year working under the watchful eye of Rebels’ star, Trevor Hosea.
After an initial “shock to the system,” Canham enjoyed a productive year strengthening his ball-handling, lineout and overall communication abilities.
“I’ve definitely become a lot stronger and a lot fitter. The step up has been great, especially with my lineouts where I didn’t realise there was so much detail required at this level.”
“This pre-season I’m excited to strengthen my tackling ability and just keep building from there.”
Following an impressive block of training and club rugby, Canham would follow in Hosea’s footsteps, winning selection in the Junior Wallabies’ squad for the Oceania Tournament scheduled for July. Canham was one of four Rebels named in the 31-man squad, joining Carter and Mason Gordon, Glen Vaihu and Unicorns’ star, Taliu Tuia.
Despite the tournament being cancelled due to COVID-19, Canham said his selection was a “great honour” and one which hinted a Super Rugby debut might not be too far away.
“To be selected in the Under-20’s team, that’s been a goal of mine for some time, so it was awesome to get there.”
“It was disappointing I didn’t get to play, but nonetheless, the recognition shows I’m on the right path with my career, which is great.
“I really appreciate the support that helped me on my journey to get there - Nic Henderson, who used to be with the Rebels and helped me really zone in my focus on rugby, and my teacher at school, Mr English, was another, but there’s been a lot of people who I’m really grateful for their support. “
The challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic have been widespread across the country, impacting all walks of life, including Australia’s sporting landscape.
Reflecting on a turbulent past two months, Canham praised the love, support, and dedication from the Rebels coaching staff, it’s executive team and the club’s player development officer Moana Leilua, for keeping all players and staff fully engaged during a trying time.
“The entire club has been great creating such a strong, supportive culture - everyone is so close.
"I’ve got a few friends at other clubs, and it seems we’re quite unique in terms of just how connected we are as group.
“Each state has their own group chat, and on top of that, the squad has their own Whatsapp group, plus regular Zoom catch ups.
"Even though we’re separated in lockdown, we're still keeping that connection strong."