The Melbourne Rebels have finalised their 2013 Super Rugby squad with the signing of promising front row forward Cruze Ah Nau into the Elite Playing Squad (EPS).
Cruze is another graduate of the Rebel Rugby Program, having played for the Rebel Rising in 2012. Demonstrating resilience and a professional attitude, Cruze was justly rewarded with a Super Rugby opportunity when given the opportunity by Head Coach Damien Hill late last year.
The West Australian born Ah Nau has been part of the Rebels squad for the most part of the 2012 off-season, although he was never certain of claiming the final playing spot in the squad.
"When Hilly said there was a spot for me if I could prove to him I wanted it, then I just gave him no choice but to pick me," said Ah Nau.
"Having been part of the program last year, I have learnt to appreciate what this Club is trying to do, especially coming from a part of Australia where AFL runs the town."
After an impressive season with the Western Force Academy, he broke through the representative ranks for the Australian Under 20s, while also playing in the local Perth Club Rugby competition.
With Cruze filling the Club's final EPS spot, New Zealand born and former Tuggeranong Vikings hooker Pat Leafa has been promoted to the full time playing squad after being one of the standout performers of the young Rebels list since arriving last September.
"I can't believe I was playing local footy in Canberra 12 months ago and now I am on a full time Super Rugby contract. It is just awesome!" said Leafa.
Both Cruze and Leafa may have been recruited left field, but the Rebels are searching well within the Club ranks of every state - including their own - to ensure that no player with the right skill set is overlooked.
Head of player recruitment Sam Cordingley suggested any player who enters the Rebel Rising or Rebel Rugby program should feel there is a pathway to Super Rugby.
"We see players like Cruze transform themselves when placed in a professional sporting environment. I think if we can look back on the effectiveness of our program, it's how we develop players - whether recruited or developed locally," said the former Wallaby Scrumhalf.
"12 months ago, Pat Leafa was playing club Rugby in Canberra and now finds himself on a full time Super Rugby Contract. That is a credit to him, but ultimately a credit to the program we are instilling at this club.
"That is the challenge for this local competition here in Melbourne and at this Club. We have already seen a bolster of local players work within the Rebels Rising program, and we want to drill down through the ranks and grow the game at a grass roots level. If the players show potential, we want to give the opportunity.
"We see players like Cruze transform themselves when placed in a professional sporting environment. I think if we can look back on the effectiveness of our program its how we can develop players, and Cruze is one with enormous potential."
Both Cruze and Pat will have their first opportunity in Rebels colours in a trial match against the NSW Waratahs at North Hobart Oval on Saturday 2 February.
Rebels 2013 Super Rugby squad
Eddie Aholelei, Paul Alo-Emile, Kurtley Beale, Tim Davidson, Gareth Delve, Scott Fuglistaller , Shota Horie, Scott Higginbotham, Nic Henderson, Mitch Inman, Luke Jones, James King, Richard Kingi , Lachlan Mitchell, James O'Connor, Cadeyrn Neville, Nick Phipps, Hugh Pyle, Ged Robinson, Alex Rokobaro, Angus Roberts, Jarrod Saffy, Nic Stirzaker, Rory Sidey, Kimami Sitauti, Chris Thomson, Cooper Vuna, Laurie Weeks, Jason Woodward, Cruze Ah-Nau (EPS), Trent Dyer (EPS), Tom English (EPS), Bryce Hegarty (EPS), Pat Leafa (EPS), Jordy Reid (EPS)