Clebrating Rebels players.
The Rebels have been boosted by news of a proposed partnership and financial lifeline. Image by James Gourley/AAP PHOTOS
  • rugby union

Rebels could be thrown Super Rugby financial lifeline

Melissa Woods April 4, 2024

The financially-stricken Melbourne Rebels’ Super Rugby Pacific future may be saved by a private equity-backed consortium which has proposed an alignment with A-League club Western United.

The Rebels, who sit sixth on the ladder ahead of their AAMI Park clash with the seventh-ranked Fijian Drua on Friday night, are waiting on a decision from Rugby Australia (RA) on the survival of the club beyond this season.

Melbourne entered voluntary administration in January with debts of more than $20 million.

But they may have found a lifeline with a group led by former Qantas chairman Leigh Clifford in the “final stages of high-level talks” to move the rugby side to Melbourne’s western suburbs and join forces with the A-League’s Western United.

Led by Clifford, a former CEO of Rio Tinto, the consortium is made up of members of Melbourne’s “business community that see the benefit of keeping professional women’s and men’s rugby in Victoria”.

“The Melbourne Rebels consortium is well on the way to raising $20-$30 million from private equity to invest in the Rebels over a number of years,” the group said in a statement.

“The Federal Government and Wyndham City Council have been briefed on the plan over recent months.

“There are obvious synergies and cost efficiencies between the sporting codes which would see both Western United and the Melbourne Rebels share a community-based facility and growth strategy.

“Wyndham is home to one of the largest Pasifika communities and already has a large rugby union fan base in the West of Melbourne.”

The sports clubs would share the Wyndham Regional Football Facility in Tarneit, which is 30km outside of the Melbourne CBD.

The current ground only features an 800-seat grandstand, with a 2000-seat temporary stand constructed for A-League matches opposite, boosting its capacity to around 5000.

A 15,000-capacity stadium is part of the next stage of the development project, set to be completed in 2026.

Consortium spokesperson and current Melbourne Rebels Director Georgia Widdup said the move to Tarneit would be a “game-changer” for rugby in Victoria.

“We have an exciting vision and a detailed, common sense plan to grow the sport of rugby in the fastest growing municipality in Australia,” Widdup said in the statement.

“The Rebels are committed to the women’s game, the Pasifika community and important programs for the western region’s youth and this move will enable us to significantly expand these critical areas.

“This is an opportunity to grow rugby’s grassroots supporter base and attract significant new private investment to make the game sustainable into the future.”

The plan has the support of Western Melbourne Group, the parent company of the Western United Football Club.

The Rebels would need the RA backing for the plan to go ahead after the club handed back its licence when it entered administration.