THE Melbourne Rebels believe they can no longer use the excuse of being a new Super Rugby team for a lack of success. And they go further than that, with Rebels hooker Ged Robinson declaring that playing finals this season is a realistic goal.
''We want to win it. That's our goal and if you go in with anything less than that you're selling yourself short,'' Robinson said. ''We want to make the top six.''
With the Port Elizabeth-based Southern Kings this year replacing the Lions as the fifth South African team, Rebels coach Damien Hill agreed with Robinson's sentiments about the Rebels' place in the competition.
''The Southern Kings are the new team, this is our third year and it's time to step up,'' Hill said.
''There certainly is a good level of confidence but no one is kidding themselves. They know what they are up against in terms of the quality and standard of the competition … confidence is a really good thing to have and the team's got it but it needs to be backed up with consistent performances.''
The Rebels are a changed team from last year having lost a host of experienced and accomplished players, such as Stirling Mortlock, Mark Gerrard and Julian Huxley, who helped establish the club as the competition's 15th team in 2011.
Hill said the injection of new energy into the Rebels from the likes of established Wallaby Scott Higginbotham, as well as young players who will all be pressing for a first-grade spot this season, will make the difference to the club's ambitions of improving on its previous finishes of last (2011) and 13th (2012). He said the benefit of younger bodies had already been seen with more intensive training during the pre-season.
''There were 13 players over 30 last year, this year we've got four and that does make a difference … The players we've had in the past have done a fantastic job in terms of setting up the club and achieving the wins we did achieve in the first couple of years but I think the changes we made are appropriate for where the club is now, so the injection of youth and enthusiasm has come at the right time,'' Hill said.
Robinson has seen his role in the team also transform during the off-season. He is the No.1 hooker, and with the retirement of former Wallaby Adam Freier and the departures of Luke Holmes and Heath Tessmann, he faces new challengers for the position with the recruitment of Japanese international Shota Horie and emerging talent Pat Leafa.
''I suppose when I first came [to Melbourne] I was the young guy trying to fill the boots and now I'm the older guy … both the hookers are pushing me and I'll help them along,'' Robinson said.
The Rebels play the NSW Waratahs in their first pre-season game in Hobart on Saturday and the Hurricanes in Geelong the following Saturday, with the first competition match for the Rebels on February 15 against the Western Force at AAMI Park.