Rugby’s cash-strapped Melbourne Rebels vow to fight for survival

Melbourne Rebels will play Super Rugby in 2024 despite financial woes, Rugby Australia says.

Melbourne Rebels will play Super Rugby in 2024 despite financial woes, Rugby Australia says. Photo: Getty

Facing an uncertain future, the Melbourne Rebels are determined that if this Super Rugby Pacific season is their last they will go down fighting.

The cash-strapped Rebels have entered voluntary administration and handed their licence back to Rugby Australia, who in return will cover their costs for the 2024 season.

The board, including chairman Paul Docherty whose financially stricken companies are sponsors of the club, have stepped down but the Melbourne management remains in place.

In a statement, Rugby Australia (RA) said it would work with the administrators and focus on a “viable professional rugby footprint in Melbourne that can be sustainable and commercially successful in the future”.

Itself under huge financial pressure and with the Wallabies at their lowest ebb after their World Cup disaster, RA may look to cull the Rebels, who are believed to have debts of about $9 million, and return to four franchises.

Melbourne avoided the chop in 2017 when private owner Andrew Cox’s Imperium Sports Group transferred the licence and all shares in the club to the Victorian Rugby Union for $1, which stopped the then ARU from buying the Rebels and shutting them down.

The Victorian government then bailed out the club in return for Test match hosting rights, which could be a lifeline again with RA boss Phil Waugh saying they were included in current discussions.

“The Victorian government has been a long-standing and significant supporter of professional and community rugby,” Waugh said in a statement.

“Our focus is to work with the Victorian government and its key agencies … to ensure the Rebels’ participation in the 2024 Super Rugby season and the continuation of professional rugby in the state.”

Club chief executive Baden Stephenson told AAP having no guarantee beyond the current season didn’t mean it was the end of the road.

“We don’t love hearing that. We’ve got lots of lots of staff and players contracted to 2025,” he said.

“We’ve got the British and Irish Lions coming, we’re building a squad, we’re all gung-ho.

“I think for Rugby Australia, now that they’ve got the licence they’ve probably got some options.

“I would like to think that if Rugby Australia can help us navigate our way through 2024, that in 2025 there’s a really clear pathway and it’s almost a reset to the business.”

The Rebels, who have their first trial of the year on Saturday hosting NSW Waratahs, have assembled possibly their strongest line-up since joining the competition in 2011 including superstar prop Taniela Tupou.

Coach Kevin Foote, who was an assistant at Western Force when it was cut, said the current situation would “galvanise” the team.

“The first thing we spoke about was controlling what we can control,” he told AAP of his meeting with the players on Tuesday.

“If anything this is made the players very determined. I lived through this in Perth and I can tell you this will galvanise the team, but winning changes everything.

“We’ve got to play a game that people are going to be really, really inspired by and we think we’re on the right track with it.

“We’ve got great recruitment and we’ve got leaders who have been at the club for a long time now who really want to show what rugby means in Victoria.”

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