Simply super: ARU boss Bill Pulver (third from left) and Jordan Hawke from sponsor Asteron Life at the rugby season launch. Photo: Getty Images
The Melbourne Rebels have acted wisely by clearing out the old guard and starting again in its quest for Super Rugby respectability, Queensland star Will Genia said.
Genia likens the new-look Rebels to the Reds several years before they won the title in 2011. The Reds had gone through a decade of failure and several coaches before a new generation led by Genia, Quade Cooper, Digby Ioane and James Horwill emerged under coach Ewen McKenzie.
Melbourne, which has won its first two trial games this year against NSW and the Hurricanes and faces Queensland on Friday, was completely overhauled on and off field after three seasons of middling results and off-field disruptions caused by poorly considered marquee signings. It now has few ties to the foundation team of 2011 and Genia, who attended Wednesday's Super Rugby launch with representatives from all of Australia's franchises, said the clean out was needed.
''I think it starts with starting fresh,'' Genia said. ''You need, to an extent, clean out a bit of the old [guard] because no matter the quality of the player, there's always going to be scars of what's been done before. So if you can bring kids in, or bring in new players who haven't had the experience of the cultural issues before or the problems of losing, they come in with fresh enthusiasm and fresh spirit and just want to do well.
''You've got to bring in the right people in terms of the organisation off the field as well as bringing in the right playing group to buy into the culture that the coach is trying to develop.
''From the conversations I've had with Higgers [Rebels skipper Scott Higginbotham] and from what you see in the trials, they definitely look as though they're heading in the right direction.
''I think there's a lot of similarities between them now and where the Reds were at a few years ago.''
Wallabies coach McKenzie said he had noticed a change in the Rebels since the ''cagey operator'' Tony McGahan took the coaching reins. ''Tony is a good operator. He's coached in some serious environments before and I know culturally he gets it,'' McKenzie said.
''I've been down [to Melbourne] and had a look and I was very impressed with what he has organised … I don't think any one's confused about the intentions.''
Genia said the Rebels were not disadvantaged by lacking superstar power, with only Higginbotham currently regarded as a possible starting Wallaby. ''I don't think you need [superstars],'' Genia said. ''One of the things about not having players that are very well recognised is that you fly under the radar … you can surprise teams and catch teams off guard, get big wins here and there and push yourselves towards a finals berth.''
He said developing an elite group within a team ''comes with time in the saddle''.
''Players will get used to Super Rugby, what it takes to perform, understand the right routines of what they need to play well and that will just come in time,'' he said.
Meanwhile, the Rebels have called former Australian under-20 halfback Jock Merriman into their squad with Nic Stirzaker sidelined with an ankle injury. Merriman will act as cover for starting No.9 Luke Burgess and inexperienced back-up Ben Meehan.