The Melbourne Rebels have bolstered their playing depth for Super Rugby Pacific with the key re-signings of James Hanson, Stacey Ili, and George Worth, while also welcoming Efi Ma’afu back to the club.
The new one-year deals will ensure the Rebels retain three important contributors to last season’s Super Rugby AU and Trans-Tasman campaigns, with the trio combining for 29 appearances, playing over 1400 minutes across the two competitions.
Melbourne Rebels’ GM of Rugby, Nick Stiles, said: “It’s fantastic to provide some continuity to our playing squad as we begin to look ahead to an important Super Rugby Pacific campaign.”
“James Hanson is an experienced hooker, who’s tasted the ultimate success on the Super Rugby stage, and who is someone that will continue to play an important role within our club both on and off the field.
“We were really impressed by Stacey and George’s contributions in such a short period of time this year and look forward both players building on these performances in 2022.
“Efi Ma’afu is a gifted young hooker and someone who we believe will make an impact for the Rebels next season. We’re excited for him to be a part of our journey - creating sustainable, long-term success for the Melbourne Rebels.”
For the New Zealand born Ili, it was an impressive opening season of Super Rugby action.
The dashing centre won 12 caps during his debut year, using his explosive pace and frequent line breaking abilities to become a mainstay in the Rebels’ starting XV.
The Samoan international would score two tries for the Rebels, including recording the club’s fastest ever try against Weary Dunlop rivals, the NSW Waratahs on April 24.
Ili says the club’s family-first culture was a driving force behind his re-commitment.
“With Kevin Foote continuing to lead the club, everyone can see Rebels are building something special and as a player, that’s something you want to be a part of,” said Ili.
“The culture and values our club lives by and the belief we each have in each other, was a big part of my decision to sign on for 2022.”
Joining the former Melbourne Rising product is respected hooker, James Hanson.
Hanson returns to the Rebels following a rewarding past month of club rugby, after the thirty-two-year-old led the University of Queensland to a dominant premiership victory in Queensland’s Premier Rugby competition.
During his second stint in Melbourne, Hanson played a possible 12 of 13 matches for the Rebels, with his maturity and top-level experience proving crucial to his young side’s stirring Trans-Tasman campaign.
The former Wallaby said he’s driven to repay the city where his professional rugby journey first began almost 15 years ago.
“Getting a taste of Super Rugby again after spending a few years overseas ignited something in me,” said Hanson.
“I still have more I want to achieve in the game, and I’ve always had a deeper link with Melbourne after they gave me my first professional opportunity in the 2007 ARC competition.
“It’s been great to see how much the game has grown in Victoria and it would be really special to bring back some silverware to The Stockade and repay the Rebels’ faithful.”
After relocating to Melbourne in March this year, George Worth enjoyed a promising first season with the Rebels, making his club debut against the Waratahs in Round 10 of the Super Rugby AU competition.
The popular fullback went on to play four of the Rebels’ final five matches of the year, including an impressive Round 3 performance against the Highlanders, in which Worth made 10 runs for 50 metres, with 8 passes and a clean break.
The twenty-four-year-old said he’s excited to build on an enjoyable first year of Australian rugby.
“I loved everything about my initial time with the Rebels, so being able to commit for a longer period of time is fantastic and I can’t wait to get stuck into pre-season and improve as a player,” said Worth.
Young hooker, Efi Ma’afu, joins the returning trio, following one season playing overseas for Japanese side, the Yokohama Canon Eagles. A member of the Rebels’ maiden Super Rugby AU finals squad, Ma’afu played nine games for the Rebels in 2020.
The former Junior Wallaby said he’s looking forward to reuniting with Under-20’s teammates Pone Fa’amausili, Jordan Uelese, Rob Leota and Trevor Hosea.
“I’m thrilled to be back in Rebels colours and really excited for the season ahead,” said Ma’afu.
“It’s great to be closer to my family now and to now have the opportunity to play with some familiar faces in such a wonderful city.”