It’s been an immense past seven days for the Melbourne Rebels and the wider Victorian rugby community.
On Saturday, the Wallabies continued their winning ways, capturing a third-consecutive win for the first time since 2017, following a dominant 27- 8 victory over Argentina in Townsville.
The Melbourne Rebels were strongly represented in the fiery clash, with five Rebels selected in Dave Rennie’s starting XV, including Marika Koroibete, Matt Philip and Burn Boy, Rob Leota, who all produced strong performances, while Reece Hodge and Andrew Kellaway both scored tries for the home side.
Kellaway’s 70th minute major saw the dashing winger claim his fifth try from just seven appearances, placing him firmly within reach of Israel Folau’s 2013 Australian record of 10 tries in his maiden Test campaign.
But for Victorian fans, the surprise promotion of Rob Leota into the Wallabies’ starting side was undoubtedly the highlight of the night.
Leota registered 52 minutes in his maiden starting debut, imposing his physicality and aggression at will, helping the Wallabies secure a commanding 17-3 half-time lead.
The night capped a whirlwind journey for the twenty-four-year-old, who first joined the Rebels back in 2016, becoming one of the first Victorian pathway products to graduate and sign with his hometown club.
After making his Super Rugby debut as an eighteen-year-old against the Crusaders that same season, the former Australian Under-20’s star has since gone on to claim 38 memorable appearances for the Rebels, capturing the local public’s attention with his trademark enthusiasm and physicality on both sides of the ball.
A Thornbury High School graduate, Leota’s former high school teacher and current Northern Panthers’ President, Grant Wason, believes the twenty-four-year-old’s ascension to Australian rugby’s highest honours will have a profound impact on his beloved Darebin community.
“What Rob’s been able to overcome and push through and now achieve, that’s going to reinforce a number of things,” said Wason.
“For one, playing rugby in Victoria and representing your country at the highest level, it’s certainly possible. The kids know there’s a pathway, but Rob’s success helps highlight this.
“Even though I’m now retired, I’m still taking kids out to rugby. This year I had twenty-one Under-14 kids keen to get out and play rugby but obviously with COVID-19 restrictions, we were unable to do so.
“Rob has been so good engaging with that next generation, when he has the time obviously and certainly all the kids were really excited at the prospect of meeting his earlier this year, before his time with the Wallabies.
“I’m expecting, with everything Rob has so quickly achieved, it’s going to be a real source of inspiration for them and many more to come.
“It’s also made an impact on our local council – seeing his success and the impact local facilities can have on a players’ growth is important and will play a part in what we can provide to our community moving forward.”
With a final two-month tour of Japan and the UK on the near horizon to round out the 2021 international season, Wason believes Leota’s maiden Wallabies’ tour experience will only help elevate the powerful forward’s game ahead of the upcoming Super Rugby Pacific campaign set to kick off officially in six-month’s time.
“Just thinking about the great coaches he’s learning off and the quality of players he’s competing against every day, that whole experience will rub off on him for the better, no doubt.”
“From my standpoint, the world’s now starting to offer Rob the opportunity to reach his full potential and it’s been great to watch.
“I always thought during school, this guy could be anything – he just needed the encouragement and the support to grow, and he’s got that.
“Geoff Parling has been instrumental in Rob’s development and obviously Dave has played an important role as well.
“Rob’s going to be even better in Super Rugby next year from this season’s Test experience and I can’t wait to see what he’ll do with the Rebels.”