Melbourne are set to be in the unusual position of favourites to win a rugby union title when the new National Rugby Championship (NRC) gets under way.
While the Rebels picked up the Super Rugby wooden spoon, the Melbourne Rising have announced a strong squad for the coming NRC.
With four teams in NSW and two in Queensland in the nine-team competition, their Super sides must split their talent.
Perth Spirit have the travel factor while the University of Canberra Vikings will be missing many Brumbies players due to Test commitments.
The Rising have just two Wallabies absent in Scott Higginbotham and Luke Burgess, leaving them with a formidable 33-man squad packed with 16 Super Rugby players.
Rebels regulars Mitch Inman, Pat Leafa, Sean McMahon, Tom English and Luke Jones were among the squad unveiled.
They will wear an electric blue and pink playing strip.
Coach Sean Hedger said the team wasn’t primarily using the NRC to identify and develop players; they were out to win.
“First and foremost, winning is the main objective,” Hedger said.
“The nature of the competition will provide opportunities for local players and that will be on merit.”
All nine Victorian clubs are represented in the squad, and Hedger is eager to see how those players flourish with a higher level of training and standard of play.
Outside back Joe Kamana, 23, is one of those players after getting a taste of Super Rugby when he played in the Rebels’ trial match against NSW this year.
Rebels and now Rising halfback Nic Stirzaker said he was looking forward to putting a disappointing end to the Super Rugby season behind him.
“Everyone’s looking forward to the chance to play more footy,” Stirzaker said.
“One of the positives is that it will give us a chance to work more on our combinations.
“New Zealand and South Africa have this sort of competition and I think it will be really good for our depth.”
The Rising open their season against the North Harbour Rays with a night match on August 22.