2017 was, in general, one to forget from an Australian point of view and, for the Rebels, it was a particularly disastrous campaign.
They secured one just one victory all season as they propped up the Super Rugby table, astonishingly residing below the Sunwolves, who appeared destined to take that position once again.
Hopes are higher this time around, however, with the Melbourne outfit especially benefiting from the Western Force’s culling from the competition. David Wessels has been brought in and 11 players have joined, which includes captain and Wallaby second-row Adam Coleman and full-back Dane Haylett-Petty.
Will Genia has also signed following his return to the country from a stint in Europe with Stade Francais and it provides an interesting subplot to this encounter. The 88-times capped international admitted that he would have signed for the Reds had spaces been available in their roster but ultimately the 30-year-old settled on the Rebels.
It will therefore be a case of the master against the apprentice when Genia goes head-to-head with James Tuttle. The Queensland hierarchy have opted for youth in the halfback position and, while Tuttle is a talent, it will be interesting to see whether he can outthink the experienced scrum-half.
The visitors will also hope that familiarity will be a factor. While boss Brad Thorn has chosen to controversially axe Quade Cooper, the core of the squad remains the same and, against a Rebels side who have yet to truly gel, it could count in their favour.
Both teams will be desperate to erase memories of a disappointing 2017 – the Reds themselves only winning four matches last year – but the hosts appear the best equipped to do that.
Wessels’ men are odds-on with the bookmakers and have plenty of exciting talent in their ranks. Alongside their new signings, Reece Hodge, Tom English and Sefa Naivalu remain and they could be an intriguing team to watch should it all come together for the AAMI Park-based outfit.
The last time the teams met:
It was a tight one in Melbourne as the Reds ran out 29-24 victors at AAMI Park. It was a cruel way for the Rebels to lose, with Samu Kerevi touching down in the final minute to snatch the win. The hosts had been 17-9 behind at the interval but appeared on course for a share of the spoils after levelling the match at 24-24, but Kerevi’s decisive effort earned the visitors their first away success since 2015.
It is all change at the Rebels with several players making their Rebels debut. In the backline, Dane Haylett-Petty and Will Genia will add plenty of quality behind the scrum, while the Melbourne-based side have benefited from Western Force’s axe by strengthening the pack.
Adam Coleman has joined and taken on the captaincy and he will provide plenty of ballast behind a front-row containing two former Force props in Tetera Faulkner and Jermaine Ainsley. Angus Cottrell, another former Western Australian, will line up alongside two prominent ball-carriers in Lopeti Timani and Amanaki Mafi, who form a fearsome unit.
The Reds, meanwhile, are slightly more settled, with the backline – Aidan Toua and Eto Nabuli the exceptions – all coming through the system at the Queensland outfit. Nabuli and fellow wing Chris Feauai-Sautia both provide pace and power, but they will need the half-backs of Jono Lance and James Tuttle to perform if they are to see space.
In the pack, Scott Higginbotham has taken on the captaincy and he has a big role to play in guiding a reasonably youthful and inexperienced forward eight. They do not lack quality, however, and Lukhan Tui, Izack Rodda and Taniela Tupou will look to build on promising 2017 campaigns.
Form: The Rebels will certainly hope their pre-season form is not an indication of what is to come after suffering heavy defeats to both the Brumbies and Waratahs. They were thrashed 50-19 and 47-5 respectively but ultimately those games count little when it comes to the Super Rugby campaign. The Reds took a slightly different route in pre-season, where they faced the Fijian Warriors and emerged 17-15 triumphant.
2017: Reds won 29-24 in Melbourne
2016: Rebels won 31-28 in Brisbane
2016: Rebels won 25-23 in Melbourne
2015: Reds won 46-29 in Brisbane
2015: Rebels won 23-15 in Melbourne
2014: Reds won 36-20 in Melbourne
2014: Rebels won 30-27 in Brisbane
2013: Reds won 33-20 in Brisbane
2013: Reds won 23-13 in Melbourne
2012: Reds won 32-17 in Melbourne
Rebels: 15 Dane Haylett-Petty, 14 Jack Maddocks, 13 Tom English, 12 Reece Hodge, 11 Sefa Naivalu, 10 Jack Debreczeni, 9 Will Genia, 8 Amanaki Mafi, 7 Angus Cottrell, 6 Lopeti Timani, 5 Adam Coleman (c), 4 Matt Philip, 3 Jermaine Ainsley, 2 Jordan Uelese, 1 Tetera Faulkner
Replacements: 16 Anaru Rangi, 17 Fereti Sa’aga, 18 Sam Talakai, 19 Sam Jeffries, 20 Ross Haylett-Petty, 21 Michael Ruru, 22 Semisi Tupou, 23 Billy Meakes
Reds: 15 Aidan Toua, 14 Chris Feauai-Sautia, 13 Samu Kerevi, 12 Duncan Paia’aua, 11 Eto Nabuli, 10 Jono Lance, 9 James Tuttle, 8 Scott Higginbotham (c), 7 Adam Korczyk, 6 Caleb Timu, 5 Lukhan Tui, 4 Izack Rodda, 3 Taniela Tupou, 2 Brandon Paenga-Amosa, 1 James Slipper
Replacements: 16 Alex Mafi, 17 JP Smith, 18 Sef Fa’agase, 19 Kane Douglas, 20 Liam Wright, 21 Tate McDermott, 22 Hamish Stewart, 23 Filipo Daugunu
Date: Friday, February 23
Venue: AAMI Park, Melbourne
Kick-off: 19:45 local (08:45 GMT)
Referee: Brendon Pickerill (New Zealand)
Assistant referee: Nic Berry (Australia), Jordan Way (Australia)
TMO: Ian Smith (Australia)