Rebels with a cause
Ross Oakley is a man up for a challenge. The former AFL supremo, who guided the transition of Australian Rules football from the VFL to a national game, has taken the reins at Melbourne’s newest professional sporting club, the Melbourne Rebels. “It’s been a massive task. I don’t think anyone shies away from a challenge or hard work here, but starting something from scratch is never easy, and we’re trying to achieve everything in a short period of time.
“Where we are at now is a great condition to be, we’re ready for the seasons start and we look forward to it. We don’t expect to be world-beaters, but we do want to give a good account of ourselves every time we play.”
It’s not a challenge Oakley or the club will face alone, with a few thousand members already signed up and an agreement in place with the University freshly signed, the Rebels enter their debut season in good condition.
Certainly the University has had a long and distinguished history of involvement in elite sport in Melbourne. Already boasting Australia’s oldest rowing club; it was a member of the original Victorian Football League – the antecedent of today’s AFL – and was a foundation team of the Victorian Rugby Union.
“It’s a mutually good fit,” says Oakley of the linkage. “We’re trying to establish ourselves as a Melbourne icon in the community and so everything we can do to easily achieve that, we’re attempting to do. Clearly the University of Melbourne is already an icon in this city, and this state, and I certainly think some of the values we espouse at the club are very much about what the University is about. Having been an ex-student I know what its culture is.”
Those values – centred on respect, balance, excellence and leadership – are core to what Oakley and the Rebels are trying to achieve. “We’ve got high standards, and we see ourselves as a leading club franchise in the rugby community, both on and off the field. Our philosophy, ‘We not me’ is the Rebel approach. We’re not rebels in the streets, we’re more about finding new ways of doing things. I want in a short period of time for people to understand and respect that, and ultimately, want to be part of that.”
For the Rebels though, it’s more than just the opportunity to be closely aligned with an elite athlete-friendly university. “What we’re trying to do is create an image around the club. We want people to understand that there are some very good values in society we are trying to espouse. One of those is having a good balance in life; there’s sport but, also educating yourself, and being involved in charity work too.
“So the association with the University is really good for us, and we’re hoping it will be good for the University, highlighting just how involved we both are across all levels of the local Melbourne community and beyond.”
Regular visitors to the University can expect to see more of two Rebels in particular, with former Reds and Wallabies fullback Julian Huxley and current Australian under 20 representative Luke Jones nominated as the Melbourne University Rugby Football Club’s official ambassadors.
Huxley is predicting big things for grassroots rugby in the state, including University, and says that the sooner the Rebels can breed home-grown talent for the club, the better. “We’ve got to start somewhere, and we want to get local born and bred players playing for the Rebels as soon as we can.
“We know it’s important to be part of the community, that’s why we have our ‘Five Star Engagement’ days with local schools and clubs. That’s part of us trying to show people we’re not just transient blow ins, that we really care about this team and about setting rugby up in Melbourne for the long term.
“You can’t just snap your fingers, and make the local born and bred boys play for the Rebels. But just because something is difficult doesn’t mean you can’t achieve it, that’s one thing I believe strongly in.”
And the University sports community is happy to have them on board. Sport Development Manager Rod Warnecke says the linkage with Rebels will provide a positive impact on the Uni club and their continued growth in the VRU. “It’s more than just being an elite athlete-friendly education provider, though I’m sure that helps any players thinking of studying here! The MURFC, like many in the Victorian rugby community, was a huge supporter of bringing Super 15 rugby to Victoria. They’ve achieved that now, and I look forward to seeing this relationship grow over the coming seasons and providing opportunities for both clubs.”
The Melbourne University Rugby Football Club will officially welcome the Melbourne Rebels and launch their 2011 season with an event on February 16 at University House.