Melbourne Rebels name Quade Cooper for debut, Isi Naisarani tipped for big season

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But it’s the addition of Naisarani which has Wessels most excited as the Fijian-born forward brings broad shoulders and plenty of talent to the forward pack.

Naisarani first broke into Super Rugby with Wessels at the Western Force and was lured back to his old coach from the Brumbies where he again impressed last season.

Melbourne Rebels recruit Isi Naisarani (pictured left) is tipped to fire.

Melbourne Rebels recruit Isi Naisarani (pictured left) is tipped to fire.Credit:Melbourne Rebels

He’s tipped to be in the Wallabies squad later this year once he is cleared to play for the country.

“We are lucky with Isi we have worked with him before as coaches,” Wessels said.

“Aside from anything he is just a humble, great guy and people forget he is only going into his third season of Super Rugby.

“The exciting thing is that he is still young, still has a tremendous amount of upside. He could be anything if he keeps working hard.”

Naisarani has big shoes to fill as he replaces Japanese wrecking-ball Amanaki Mafi in the side but while Mafi’s ball running will be missed, he also led the competitive in penalties and that area is one the Rebels have targetted for major improvement across their side in 2019.

Wessels hasn’t risked two of his Wallabies stars with Adam Coleman (calf) and Reece Hodge (ankle) not selected.

Coleman hurt his calf during the recent Wallabies camp while Hodge is in the final stages of a return from ankle surgery.

The Rebels have a round two bye so Wessels hopes both can be in contention to play in their home-opener on March 1.

Young forwards Esei Ha’angana and Rob Leota have made the bench and they were praised by Wessels along with veteran prop Tetera Faulkner.

“Guys like Esei, Rob Leota have been picked for this game because they have worked hard this pre-season and they deserve it,” Wessels said.

“I think there is a number of guys in our pack have worked hard. A guy like Tetera Faulkner has come back in career-best shape and for him to come in like that means I’m expecting a big season from him.”

While the Rebels and New South Wales Waratahs have been labelled by many as the teams to beat in the Australian conference, the Brumbies have quietly built another sturdy team boasting a host of Wallabies level talents led by flanker David Pocock, lock Sam Carter and winger Henry Speight.

Melbourne Rebels play ACT Brumbies at GIO Stadium, Canberra on Friday at 7.45pm.

Roy Ward is a Sports writer for The Age.

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