What do a Sun and a Rebel have in common?

BY AUBREY HAMLETT

13 September 2011

This article originally appeared on upstart Magazine

The Gold Coast Suns and the Melbourne Rebels made their inaugural debut in the 2011 AFL and Super 15 season. Aubrey Hamlett compares the highs and lows of the new teams.

2011 was a big year for both the AFL and Rugby Union, with both codes introducing new teams in their hope of broadening their appeal.

If you measured the success of the exercise on victories alone, there’s some way to go to establish the Gold Coast Suns in the AFL competition and the Melbourne Rebels in Super Rugby.

But with so many young players, the 2012 season will give both teams a chance to continue building their respective franchises on and off the field.

Among the rising stars are David Swallow for the Suns, while the Rebels have scrum-half, Nick Phipps.

In his debut AFL season, Swallow was nominated for the AFL Rising Star award.  The number one draft pick finished his first season having played 20 games and averaging 19.9 disposals per game.

Phipps was voted the Melbourne Rebels Player of the Year and Super Rugby’s Australian Rookie of the Year.  He was also selected with fellow Rebels teammate, Mark Gerrard for the Wallabies 2011 Tri Nations team.

Phipps has since been included in the 30-man Wallabies squad to compete in this year’s Rugby World Cup hosted by New Zealand.

Another factor the Suns and the Rebels have in common are their ‘bald’ captains. The Rebels are led by ex-Wallaby Stirling Mortlock, while Gary Ablett Jnr captains the Suns.

Ablett was infamously poached from the Geelong Cats, where he was a two-time premiership player and 2009 Brownlow medallist.  He was lured by the opportunity to captain the Suns, play alongside his younger brother Nathan, and help build the AFL’s newest franchise.

Ablett won the Gold Coast’s inaugural Best and Fairest award, the same night his old team Geelong won through to its fifth consecutive preliminary final.

The Rebels, meanwhile, recruited star fly-half and Englishman, Danny Cipriani. In recruitment terms it was the equivalent of hiring Ablett.  But, unlike Ablett, Cipriani hasn’t had a season free of controversy.

Cipriani was suspended for breaking team protocol after the Rebels lost to the Waratahs in Sydney. He was also left out of their tour of South Africa, a decision made by his teammates.

Despite rumours, Cipriani will honour his two-year contract and stay with the Rebels for the 2012 Super 15 season.

However, it was not all-bad press and broken curfews.

Each team won three games that were hard fought and not easily won. The Suns defeated Port Adelaide, the Richmond Tigers and the Brisbane Lions. The Rebels defeated the Canberra Brumbies, Wellington Hurricanes and Perth’s Western Force.

Both clubs also spent the season trying to create a strong supporter base.

The Gold Coast Suns now boast 14,064 members and the Rebels 7,685, with significant support from the corporate sector.  Home game attendances for both teams were high.

The Suns and the Rebels both won the wooden spoon in their inaugural seasons, giving them one more thing in common: the goal of moving further up the ladder next year.

Aubrey Hamlett is a second-year Bachelor of Media Studies student at La Trobe University. You can follow her on twitter @aubreyhamlett

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