The Melbourne Rebels have celebrated the dawning of a new season by making one of the most exciting announcements in Club history.
Born and bred Victorian, Rob Leota, was today officially named Club Captain for Season 2023, becoming the first homegrown player to be chosen for the men’s key leadership position. Leota was joined by Ashley Marsters, who was named Captain of the Rebels Super W team.
Today’s announcement marks the first time in Rebels’ history that both Captains have grown up in Melbourne.
Reece Hodge and Brad Wilkin have been named Leota’s deputies, with Wilkin leading the Rebels until Leota returns to the field later in 2023. Meanwhile, the experienced Meretiana Robinson has been chosen as Vice-Captain of the Rebels Super W program.
Leota began his rugby journey playing for the Northern Panthers, quickly rising through the ranks of state and national rugby, including winning selection in the Australian Under 20’s Schoolboy side in 2015.
Shortly after, Leota became the first homegrown player to sign a Super Rugby contract with the Rebels, with the nineteen-year-old going on to make his debut for his boyhood Club against the Crusaders in Round 16.
Supported by his loving parents every step of the way, Leota enjoyed a breakout 2021 season, leading to him making Wallabies debut later that year.
The twenty-five-year-old has since played 13 Tests for Australia, and 45 matches for his beloved Melbourne Rebels, while also evolving into an important leader in the Victorian Pasifika community.
“I was speechless,” said Leota upon reflection of the decision.
“My family were very proud as well. My Dad isn’t a man of many words, but I know when he doesn’t say much, he’s very proud. My family has a lot to do with my motivation playing rugby.
“I want to thank Paul Docherty, Baden, the Board and the whole Club. I was really shy back then, but going through the years, I’ve been able to grow into the character I am today, and be comfortable with who I am. I love this Club and the relationships I’ve made here.
“The boys know I like to have fun, but I know I have their respect when I take the field and I’m able to flick that switch, and that’s how I want to lead the team. My job now is to help and mentor the guys to prepare themselves and make themselves feel comfortable. I feel that when we do build those connections, we will be able to play our best brand when we take the field.
“Being able to represent my family and the Victorian community and set an example to players who are coming through the pathways like myself, is huge for me.
“With Footey’s help, seeing these pathways boys coming through, signing contracts and debuting for their hometown team, it's now my job to help up-skill them and help them play their best footy."
Melbourne Rebels Head Coach, Kevin Foote, said it was a proud day for the Rebels and Rugby Victoria.
“I had spoken to Rob’s parents the day before last year’s Bledisloe in Melbourne, and asked for their blessing and that we wanted Rob Leota to Captain us,” said Foote.
“Rob is obviously a Melbourne boy, but he’s also a warrior and exactly who he needs to be off the field. When he gets on the field, he plays with the spirit that we want and one that excites people to come and want to play our great game.
“While Rob is unavailable, we’re lucky to have another great character that will be Captaining us in Brad Wilkin, who I’ve coached for a long time.
Brad made it into Australia A last year and was awarded two player of the games, which we were so proud about. He’s a stalwart of the Club and an absolute warrior, do we’re so excited to have both these men leading us in 2023.”
Wilkin’s ascension caps a remarkable turnaround for the twenty-seven-year-old.
After overcoming three ACL injuries, Wilkin enjoyed his best season in Rebels colours last year, playing every match of the Super Rugby Pacific season, going on to win honors with Australia A and receive the Rebels prestigious Players’ Player Award.
Having arrived in Melbourne in 2019, Wilkin has gone on to play 29 matches for the Rebels, going on to become of the Club’s most respected voices.
“It’s a massive honour and something I’m really proud of,” said Wilkin.
“I’m stoked for the opportunity to lead this team. We’ve spoken a lot about where we want to go and how we want to grow and that’s been driving our behaviours in pre-season. I’m very confident in this group and know it’s going to be a great season this year. I can’t wait to rip in.”
Meanwhile, Wallaroos star, Ashley Marsters, will become just the fourth Captain in Rebels Super W history, as she leads an exciting Rebels Super W outfit in 2023.
A staple of Victorian rugby having represented Box Hill, Harlequins and Moorabbin, Marsters was a member of the inaugural Rebels Super W side in 2018 and has since played every Super W season.
The twenty-nine-year-old is also a crucial member of the Wallaroos, having represented the national team at two World Cups, and going on to make 17 appearances in the green and gold.
“I’m proud to lead this awesome group in 2023,” said Marsters.
“We got a great, young, energetic group, that’s always trying to compete at training, plus a few older heads who bring a lot of experience, so that’s going to set our team up for a successful season ahead.
“While I'm leading, I’ll be aiming to towards helping girls with aspirations to get in the gold jersey from Melbourne and that will be great.”
Melbourne Rebels Super W Head Coach, Jason Rogers, said Marsters appointment was an easy decision.
“Ash always leads from the front,” said Rogers.
“Her comms on field and off field are always direct and motivating for our girls. When we were going through process and I had a chat with her before naming her as Captain, she asked me, ‘JR, what’s your vision for us in 2023?’
“I told her, it would be awesome if those who were watching us for eighty minutes, would be standing clapping and cheering for us as we run-off after eighty-minutes because of our performance and how we played. When I saw the glint in her eye, I knew Ash would be our Captain.”