He came from the oldest rugby club in Australia to the youngest in 2014 and new Rebels CEO Baden Stephenson has a clear vision he believes will take the club into the future.
With just one win and a draw in the season so far, the former Sydney University general manager Stephenson admitted there would be change, soon, both in its playing roster and behind the scenes.
“We’ll be going through a very thorough review process and I think it would be fair to say there will be some changes in personnel,” he said.
“One, from a list perspective but also potentially from a staff perspective as well. We need to make some changes about how we run our rugby program.”
From a playing perspective, it seems flanker Sean McMahon is on the verge of an overseas departure, while Japanese club Honda Heat announced Jack Debreczeni would be joining them in the second-tier Japanese Challenge League, though that doesn’t necessarily spell the end of his Rebels time.
Changes won’t be easy for Stephenson, a man who has been so intimately linked in the club’s rugby program, but he is ready to take a step back and absorb the big picture.
“It’s a really good opportunity to take more of a helicopter view and actually make some clear decisions,” he said.
“We haven’t had a CEO for the last 18 months so to have someone that is here, running the club on a day-to-day basis will be a positive step and hopefully that can ensure the lines of communication and decision-making and what we’re doing is pretty clear for everyone in the organisation.”
Stephenson is confident the Rebels will be around next signing, the club the first to announce a 2018 signing after the ARU lifted its contracting moratorium last week, and following it up with the CEO appointment.
The Rebels in many ways have been losing an emotional battle against the Western Force as the two franchises have faced uncertainty, but Stephenson said that didn’t change the Rebels’ talent outlook.
“We haven’t possibly managed our messaging as well as what the Force and full credit to them but you look at all parts of our rugby program, our representative pathways from schoolboys to U20s to our Rebels development squads to our Melbourne Rising we’ve been extremely consistent and ultimately punching above our weight well and truly at the representative level,” he said.
“When I started we only had one Wallaby which was Scott Higginbotham so I think the fact we had eight guys away on the UK tour last year was fantastic.”
At the other end of the scale, Stephenson wants to bring the community closer to the club, a connection that has in some ways been neglected in recent times, starting with a staff blitz next week.
“I want to work on the community engagement and really re-engage with the Victorian rugby public at all levels, making sure that the Rebels are their team and we’re connected to them, that’s really important.
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“We’ve possibly dropped the ball a little bit in that space.
“One of the initiatives on the 14th of June, every person in the organisation, myself included will be out of the office and engaging with clubs and schools on next Tuesday afternoon from 3-8. spread across Melbourne.
“I think they’re the types of things that we need to show our community rugby and stakeholders that we want to engage, we’re interested, we want to help, we want to develop and we want to be all working towards a strong and sustainable rugby environment down here in Melbourne.”