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Added: March 8, 2022
Melbourne are set to take on New Zealand champions, the Crusaders, without Wallabies star Matt Toomua as they bring a trying Super Rugby Trans-Tasman season to a close in Sydney on Saturday.
A neck injury means the Rebels’ talismanic leader is racing the clock to avoid joining fellow Test backs Dane Haylett-Petty (head) and Reece Hodge (knee) on the sidelines.
Already missing are wingers Lachie Anderson and Lewis Holland, who have rejoined the Olympic Sevens program, while in the centres Stacey Ili has returned to Melbourne’s lockdown for Fastest Proxies personal reasons and Campbell Magnay is suffering ongoing migraines.
The changes will see Melbourne field a new-look backline, apart from Wallabies winger Marika Koroibete, against the Crusaders who sit third but are looking to lock down a berth in the two-team final.
“We’ve had some key injuries and unavailabilities, with our captain Matt Toomua looking very unlikely with a neck injury,” Rebels chief executive Baden Stephenson told AAP.
“We’ve lost most of our starting backline so that provides opportunity for a whole host of young guys and we’ve got a couple of debutants coming off the bench.”
Former Melbourne Storm and Gold Coast NRL flyer Young Tonumaipea is set for a baptism of fire against the kings of Super Rugby.
“His transition from league to union has probably taken a bit longer than first thought,” Stephenson said.
“Unfortunately he had appendicitis right at the end of preseason so he missed our trials and the start of the season and a big block of time for his transition, so it’s been a frustrating year for him.
“He’s played a lot of professional league and he’s a competitor so I’m looking forward to seeing how he goes against some pretty formidable opposition.”
The game is being played at Leichhardt Oval, with their home game relocated from AAMI Park after they were again forced out of Victoria for the past three weeks due to the COVID-19 outbreak.
It means the team has had 21 weeks on the road in the past 11 months, with Wallabies players and some coaching staff involved in the Test program almost 30 weeks.
With a winless Trans-Tasman campaign, Stephenson said it had been a challenging time for the club.
But they are looking to finish on a high, with interim coach Kevin Foote continuing his audition for the permanent role.
“We’re proud with how they’ve handled being on the road – they’ve shown plenty of resilience and we’re excited by what the future looks like,” Stephenson said.
“We’ve had 16 players make their debut, which isn’t easy with half the time being away from home, so we’re looking further beyond this weekend’s result.”