Rebels fighting to keep their Wallaby
SPOTLIGHT: While big money overseas beckons, the Rebels are hopeful off-contract Wallabies playmaker Matt Toomua feels that his future lies in Melbourne.
And they are also looking to convince Toomua not to take up a sabbatical next year, following Test captain Michael Hooper overseas.
Toomua and Rebels captain Dane Haylett-Petty are the only other Wallabies players able to top up their contracts, which were hit hard by COVID-19 pay cuts, with a short-term stint in Japan or Europe.
The Super Rugby side and Rugby Australia see Toomua as a priority re-signing – apart from being a major on-field talent he’s one of the few Rebels with a profile in the AFL-mad city.
Look who’s back on the track! 👀 pic.twitter.com/FFXHMwjlL7
— Melbourne Rebels (@MelbourneRebels) April 12, 2021
“Matt is very much the top of the tree in regards to priorities,” Melbourne boss Baden Stephenson told AAP.
“He’s playing good footy, has been our captain with Dane out, our goal-kicker, and someone that we really want to retain for 2022 and 2023.
“Clearly he wants to play in the World Cup so we’re working away to try to make sure it’s attractive for him to stay.”
Melbourne admit that they need to offer more than money, unable to compete with the massive contracts off-shore, and hope to tap into 31-year-old Toomua’s business interests and aspirations beyond rugby.
“Matt is slightly different as I know he’s done a lot of study and he’s aspirational to work in sport post his career,” Stephenson said.
“He knows the networks and the people that can help him here in Melbourne.
“Clearly there’s pressure from international markets but Matt and his manager do put value on the non-financial support and opportunities so it’s certainly not a finance-only situation.”
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Toomua told AAP he was still working through his future but his preference was to stay in Australia and be a part of the Wallabies’ 2023 World Cup campaign.
“A sabbatical is still an option but I’ve got to figure out a few more things before I start thinking about that,” said Toomua, who has 54 Test caps.
“My preference is to stay at home – it’s a lot more complicated nowadays with the international market and with COVID and at my age I’m probably closer to the end than the start so I’ve got to start thinking about life beyond rugby and what that looks like.
“I sincerely hope we can find a solution that allows me to stay.”
Meanwhile, Melbourne Rebels revealed that Reece Hodge has suffered an MCL injury sustained during last Friday’s match against the Western Force.
The Wallaby will be sidelined for the remainder of the Super Rugby AU & Trans-Tasman Competitions.