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Why the collapse of the Melbourne Rebels would be ‘devastating’ for a rugby academy changing the lives of underprivileged kids

He said his program had contributed many players to Melbourne Rebels squads, including women’s and junior teams, and boosted participation at community level.


“Without a shadow of a doubt, there’s been mostly negative growth in the rugby space across the country, but that’s not the case for Victoria,” Orange said.

“Without sounding arrogant, but [that’s] on the back of a lot of the work that I’ve done, and been successful at creating rugby as a public school pathway through to the Melbourne Rebels. There’s a genuine pathway. A lot of my boys and girls are counting on those contacts from my original academy.”

The Melbourne Rebels have a longstanding partnership with the academy. The Rebels are known for developing elite homegrown rugby talent, including Lebron Naea, Leafi Talataina and former star, Trevor Hosea, who now plays in Japan. So the very real fear that there may not be a Victorian club in 2025 is keeping Orange awake at night.

Last month the Super Rugby club entered into voluntary administration with as much as $20 million owed to creditors, including the Australian Tax Office and the Melbourne and Olympic Park Trust.

Rugby Australia has taken back the Rebels’ licence and administrators from auditing giant PwC continue to investigate whether there is a way for the team to survive beyond 2025.

“Without a professional team here, it’s a much harder dream to sell. They feel a huge sense of pride when they put a uniform with the Melbourne Rebels logo on it.”

Jimmy Orange, Academy Movement

While Rugby Australia boss Waugh has promised to support the club for the 2024 season, he has not indicated how – or if – the governing body will do anything to help the team beyond then.

Orange was joined at Lara Secondary College on Monday for the launch of his program at the school by two of the most senior rugby officials in Victoria, Melbourne Rebels boss Baden Stephenson and Rugby Victoria president Neil Hay.

Also in attendance was the school’s principal, Luke Skewes, two Rebels players Easter Savelio and Talataina, Lara MP Ella George, and a handful of Rebels employees.

Lara Secondary College is the fifth school to set up a rugby program with Academy Movement. Skewes said about 15 kids enrolled in the school this year especially for the program.

Rebels player Leafi Talataina with the Lara Secondary College students enrolled in the Academy Movement program.

Rebels player Leafi Talataina with the Lara Secondary College students enrolled in the Academy Movement program.Credit: Eddie Jim

“They love the kit,” Skewes said, gesturing to the 20 or so students who donned jerseys emblazoned with the Rebels logo. “The connection to the Rebels only does favours for us.”

Rebels boss Stephenson echoed this: “It’s a cliché, but if kids can’t see it or feel it, they’re less likely to believe it. And I think given that – we’ve now got a number of players that have come through the system – there’s a genuine pathway here.”


Asked about the impact the loss of the Rebels will have on Academy Movement, Rugby Australia boss Waugh told this masthead it was “probably the greatest initiative we’ve seen across our game”.

He added: “My vision would be, no matter what the outcome is … initiatives like the movement that Jimmy Orange leads continue, and we continue to invest in connecting with school and communities.

“I understand his concerns and I guess all those concerns go into the broader conversation around ’25 and beyond.”

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