While the spotlight is on their star-studded backs, the Melbourne Rebels forwards will be auditioning for starting jerseys in their first Super Rugby trial on Friday night.
Wallabies Kurtley Beale and James O’Connor have been hogging the headlines since their recruitment to Melbourne and both will get game time in their first pre-season match against the Waikato Chiefs in Geelong.
While those two are guaranteed starting jerseys, competition is fierce in the pack following the retirement of legendary prop Greg Somerville and lock Kevin O’Neill.
Laurie Weeks and veteran Nic Henderson are likely to get the early nod as the starting front-row, while there are a host of lock contenders including Adam Byrnes, who represented Russia at last year’s Rugby World Cup, Al Campbell, Hugh Pyle, Tim Davidson, Luke Jones and newly-signed rising Kiwi star James King.
Pyle started last year’s season without a Super Rugby cap and finished in the Wallabies training squad; voted Rebels rookie of the year.
The 23-year-old said he felt more comfortable going into his second season.
“First goal is just to play as well as I can for the Rebels,” Pyle said.
“We’re really looking really good, how everyone’s developing and how we’re running into the season.
“We’ve got some star recruits and there’s a pretty big buzz around about how we’re going to go.”
Pyle admitted that the retirement of Somerville, who had 66 All Blacks Test caps, had left a big hole that the squad was working hard to fill.
“Losing Greg; he’s always been a world-class player and he’s got a wealth of experience, but in saying that we’ve got Laurie Weeks, who can definitely hold his own.
“As well as the backs, I think we might have the forwards to do well this year.”
Pyle said former Wallabies defence coach John Muggleton, who joined the club in the off-season, was making his presence felt.
“He’s fantastic defensive coach and he knows exactly what he’s doing.
“Defence is something from last year that we definitely needed to work on and so far he’s put a lot of pressure on us and worked us really hard to get that up to standard.”
The Chiefs are bringing a large squad of players to Melbourne including five-eighth Aaron Cruden, who suffered a knee injury during the World Cup.
Prize recruit Sonny-Bill Williams won’t play because he’s fighting for the New Zealand heavyweight boxing title against American Clarence Tillman III in Hamilton next Wednesday.