Rebels go 'back' to school
The Rebels have seen a number of talented local players join their training ranks over the course of the 2013 pre-season.
The impact that a player like Moli Sooaemalelagi has enjoyed this pre-season, as well as fellow Victorian Premier Grade franchise stars Kemu Valetini and Brendan Westney has ben widely reported.
The Rebels have also opened up opportunities for two recently-graduated schoolboys, who like Moli and Brendan have combined their Victorian Under-20 training with main group involvement.
For 2013 Australia A Schoolboys representative Pat Toeta, training with the franchise's senior team has been bittersweet as it has coincided with the Australian Schoolboys tour to Europe; a tour he was not selected for.
However, rather than dwell on his disappointment, Pat has instead ripped into the professional environment in an attempt to ensure he makes the most of a golden opportunity.
"I was pretty devastated to not get picked for the European tour with the Australian Schoolboys," a frank Toeta admitted.
"I had really enjoyed playing for the Australia A Schoolboys a couple of months ago; it was a whole new level for me.
"The tempo is right up there and there is no room for mistakes. You have to be on your toes and concentrating all the time as playing at that level does test your skills, and you have to adapt to it, which I thought I did well. However, when I received the call-up to come and train with the Rebels, I was definitely very excited."
Melbourne Grammar flyhalf Toeta feels he has made the most of the opportunity so far, and with the squad now on their Christmas break, is looking forward to reacquainting himself when he returns to training after a rest.
"It's amazing how welcoming the squad are; there is nobody who won't talk to you," Pat said.
"Everybody encourages me to keep my head up, and Tony McGahan is always willing to have a chat and ask you what you want to achieve and improve.
"I've made mistakes in training, but the players pick me up and encourage me to do better. Training here has actually opened my eyes to the step up in class from franchise rugby, and the opportunity to work on your skills and your talent."
Rebels' Assistant Coach Sean Hedger has been impressed by the exciting playmaker, and believes he possesses one of the key attributes required to succeed in the number ten jersey.
"Pat is not lacking in any confidence, which is a good thing for a young flyhalf," Hedger said.
"He backs up his confidence with a very high level of skill, particularly his catching and passing.
"Despite him being so young, he knows a lot of the guys and a lot of the call instructions because he has been involved through the Victorian representative system, so he is very comfortable in the environment."
Indeed, Pat has been a part of the Rugby system in Victoria since a very young age.
"I followed in my dad's footsteps and played for the Moorabbin Rams, and I have been there since Under 8's. I also received a Rugby scholarship to Melbourne Grammar and played in the First XV since Year 9. I try and take every opportunity with both hands, and now that the Rebels have been established in Melbourne I don't want to go anywhere; this is the franchise that I want to play for."
George Stewart's story differs greatly from Pat's, in that he only moved to Melbourne from Auckland last Christmas when his dad got a job offer. The Power House outside centre has just finished Year Twelve at Victoria University Secondary College's Brimbank Campus, and admits playing for the Rebels wasn't his initial sporting goal when he crossed the Tasman.
"My first goal when I moved was to try and break through for the Melbourne Storm, as I have played a lot of Rugby League as well," George said. "However, I met (Rebels Development Officer) Tia Suemai and he helped convince me to switch to Rugby. It's a big challenge, but I'm enjoying it."
"Right now, Rugby is my number one game. I started training with the Rebels when I made the Victorian Under-18 team and I've been involved for about three weeks. It is more mentally challenging than physically, but it is a massive step up."
Suemai is pleased his mentoring work has paid off thus far with George, who he describes as "a very respectful and caring young man."
"George has done well to transition from Auckland to Melbourne, successfully adapting to the different environment, culture and school system, where he passed his VCE," Suemai said. "His contribution and responsibility to his family is to be admired, and he always looks to help others before himself.
"George is part of a sports academy called Iron Armour Athletes, and after his the Victorian Under 20's training on Saturday mornings he travels to the Western Suburbs to facilitate Rugby skills and fun games for kids aged from six to fifteen. George possesses great leadership qualities, and is a remarkable young man who has achieved so much in such a short space of time."
George attended the Rebels' clash with the British & Irish Lions at AAMI Park this year, and wants to ensure he doesn't take this opportunity for granted.
"This opportunity means everything to me," he said. "It gives me the opportunity to make a name for myself, and make my family proud; I'm doing it for them and I want to grab it with both hands.
"I have to work hard over Christmas to try catch up to these guys fitness-wise, because I will be involved again with the squad after the break. The coaching is on a whole new level to what I have been exposed to before, and I'm just so happy to be here."
George has kept a close eye on one Rebel in particular during his training stint.
"I have definitely watched (fellow outside centre) Mitch Inman. I have been listening to what he said, watching his runs and how he reads the defence; he is a very smart player.
"I try to play a similar style to (All Black) Conrad Smith, and I would love to have the offloading ability of Sonny-Bill Williams, but Mitch is a great player I have been lucky enough to train beside.
The franchise wish to extend their congratulations to these talented young men, and we look forward to seeing them return to continue pre-season on Monday, January 6th.