Encouraging signs for Rebels
Rebel Cadeyrn Neville can't help but feel encouraged by a squad that appears to be clicking ahead of the 2014 Super Rugby season.
The popular big lock, who has now almost completed his third pre-season at the franchise, believes that new coach Tony McGahan's transition into life in Melbourne has been seamless, and that the players have enjoyed an arduous and challenging stint under McGahan thus far.
"The transition to Tony has been really good, especially with Tony coming through into the post-season training block and then having a full pre-season schedule as well," Neville explained.
"That was a really good time to have him here, straight after the end of the Super Rugby season, and then for the new guys who have arrived since we have been able to help them hit the ground running and really get stuck into his program.
"I had worked quite a lot with Tony at Wallaby level, so luckily enough I had been exposed to the terminology and his systems a little bit before."
When he spoke of Wallaby level, it is of the training camps he has been involved in. Thus far, Cadeyrn is yet to make his international debut, however he is confident that if both individual and team performances meet the right standards that opportunity will come.
"The potential for me to play for the Wallabies is there," he says.
"It is really a by-product of what I am trying to do here firstly, where I am aiming to be in the best shape I can and also the best I can be skill-wise for the Rebels. If we are lucky enough to win a few games, then we might see a few more Rebels players getting national opportunities."
One of the most reliable elements of the Rebels' 2013 season was its performance at line-out time, and although hooker Ged Robinson has returned to New Zealand there are minimal changes to that crucial set piece ahead of 2014. Neville believes that is a positive for the franchise.
"Ged leaves big shoes to fill, and with Tom Sexton injured now Shota Horie and Pat Leafa need to be at the top of their game to make sure we keep the line-out as strong as it was last year, and get even stronger," he says.
"We can be as tall as you like but you still need to have guys throwing it to the right spot; luckily I have full confidence in both of them. Shota mostly played off the bench but he is very skilful and could definitely step up, while Pat hasn't had much of a chance yet but he has shown that he is capable of stepping up to play regular Super Rugby.
"Having a stable second row is good; there's not much change from last year, with Sam Jeffries the only new lock. Between Hugh Pyle, Luke Jones and myself we didn't really suffer much injury, and therefore we didn't see Chris Thomson at all because he did suffer some injuries.
"The battle between me and Jonesy is massive, and it is a real benefit for the team to have healthy competition for positions. The only way that you are going to get your spot back is by playing better than somebody who is already playing well themselves, so you're only going to push the teams standards higher to try and force your way back in."
Neville is famous around the franchise for the amount of food he is able to consume, and the new on-field staff have done nothing to quell that gastronomic passion!
"[Head of Athletic Performance] Bryce Cavanagh has come in and decided he wants me to be even bigger, so that has unleashed the landfill even more," Neville laughs.
"The one that got it all started was this massive steak in South Africa when I first toured there a couple of years ago. It was a huge chunk of meat yet I finished it really easily, and even though everybody else was stuffed afterwards I went and had a thickshake as well!"
Neville admits to enjoying touring the Republic, and is hopeful that the franchise can enjoy success there at the end of the 2014 Super Rugby regular season.
"The majority of the boys love the overseas tours, particularly if they can go drama-free," Cadeyrn says.
"We have a golden opportunity in 2014 to get our first win in South Africa against the Lions in Johannesburg, and then we have to back that up with a massive challenge against the Bulls in Pretoria. They are our last two regular season games, so if we are aiming for finals at that stage they would be the ideal preparation going into that."
For the time being, Cadeyrn is focused on another solid block of pre-season training throughout January, before unleashing in the trial games in February. When this big lock lets rip, you know it's going to be entertaining!