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Super Rugby Australian conference preview: This will be closer than ever before

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14th February, 2019

Super Rugby starts this weekend and what better way to begin than having some terrific first round match ups between some star studded sides, Chiefs versus Highlanders, Brumbies versus Rebels and Waratahs versus Hurricanes to name a few.

However, this post isn’t about this weekend, this is going to be about the long-term goal of each Aussie team, that being to top the Australian conference.

Each side has signed well in the off-season, whether that being re-signing players and coaches or recruiting some new additions to their respective squads.

Going through each of the squads, there is a great mix of youth and experience seen throughout, whether that be a 100+ cap Wallaby or an up-and-coming talent that is about to experience his first taste of the elite game.

The men in blue go into this season with a young forward pack led by Michael Hooper. No doubt he will have another stand out season for the Waratahs and cement his place as the national captain.

Sekope Kepu also provides a decade of experience in the front row as he is joined by youngster Harry Johnson-Holmes who will be looking to make that next step up to Super Rugby.

Fellow Wallabies Jack Dempsey and Ned Hanigan can provide a utility-like role in the team as they can switch between the back-row and second-row incase of injury.

The backs are definitely where the money has spent as Israel Folau, Adam Ashley-Cooper and code hopper Karmichael Hunt have recently signed for further seasons.

It provides an exciting line up as they are joined by Kurtley Beale in the centres.

However a real worry for the ‘Tahs is their depth. If they succumb to a few injuries they could face a tough road on their way to topping the conference.

Their bench doesn’t provide that x-factor that a few of the other teams have.

Queensland Reds

Brad Thorn has done his homework and is keen to show what he has to offer with a vibrant Reds side. Captained by Samu Kerevi, the Reds are looking much better than they did last year.

A forward pack built up with the likes of Scott Higginbotham, Izack Rodda, Taniela Tupou and Lukhan Salakaia-Loto seems like they are going to be a real physical team at the breakdown and their ball running.

If the Reds are able to capitalise on making the advantage line, their athletic backs can finish off on the white stuff.

Despite being athletic, the Queensland back line is a slight worry. Not a lot of experience and size compared to that of the Waratahs and Brumbies.

Jordan Petaia will hopefully get a full season under his belt after nearly making the Wallabies side on last years Spring Tour, the youngster will be keen to make his mark on Australian rugby.

After suffering the last few years, it looks as though the Reds are on the right track to getting back to where they were, but just not this year.

Brad Thorn

(Photo by Jono Searle/Getty Images)

Melbourne Rebels

The Rebels are going to be the dark horse across the entire Super Rugby competition. They have a squad that boasts the potential to top the conference and fight for a spot in the latter stages of finals.

Their forward pack is tough, the likes of Adam Coleman and Luke Jones returning from Europe and Isi Naisarani from the Brumbies provide a punch in attack and brick wall in defence.

Their scrum might suffer a little bit because of experience but their back lines looks seriously mean.

Who would have thought we would see the Genia-Cooper combination again? Let’s hope they can find their mojo again from the Queensland days.

Matt Toomua, Reece Hodge, Tom English, Dane Haylett-Petty and Maddocks will be hard running and solid in defence.

The Rebels could cause quite a few upsets this year and why not get the ball rolling in the first round in Canberra against the Brumbies.

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ACT Brumbies

The boys from the capital have been fairly consistent over the last few years, either topping the conference and progressing into finals or only just missing out.

The Brumbies finished last season a high winning there last four matches but it wasn’t enough to progress.

This season, their forward pack is impressive, the majority are Wallabies. The Brumbies probably have the most impressive front-row in Australia with Allan Alaalatoa, James Slipper, Scott Sio and Folau Fainga’a all Wallabies.

Watch out for a strong scrum performance and dominance at the breakdown thanks to David Pocock and young gun Rob Valetini.

The Brumbies have great depth in the forwards with their bench packing experience especially new Wallaby and former Crusader Pete Samu.

The backs will cause damage as they try and build on the momentum of their forward pack from set piece.

Christian Lealiifano will lead his team as well new recruit Irae Simone as his inside centre who will partner Tevita Kuridrani.

Fan favourite Henry Speight will want to end his time at the Brumbies on a high before he moves to Europe, and excitement machine Tom Banks is hoping to build on his breakout year and push for Wallaby gold.

The Brumbies have the youth, talent, experience and the depth that every team would cherish, but will it be strong enough to top the conference?

David Pocock

(Photo by Mark Nolan/Getty Images)

After several seasons in Super Rugby, the Sunwolves still don’t have the ability to top the conference.

They have a few top quality players, however the rest of the squad just isn’t at the level required for Super Rugby.

The amount of travel they will have to do will take a toll on their bodies which means they will struggle when it comes to game time.

It will be an intriguing season for the Australian conference.

No doubt it will be close however the Rebels are the dark horse as mentioned before followed closely by the Brumbies.

NSW may struggle especially when they travel and the Reds are still rebuilding.

1. Melbourne Rebels
2. ACT Brumbies
3. NSW Waratahs
4. QLD Reds
5. Sunwolves