(Reuters) - Factbox on the teams in the Australian Super Rugby Conference:
ACT BRUMBIES (Canberra)
Coach: Dan McKellar (first year)
Captains: Sam Carter & Christian Lealiifano
Last year’s finish: Fourth (W-6, L-9)
Best performance: Champions (2001, 2004)
Chances: Coach Dan McKellar takes charge in his first year in Super Rugby as a replacement for Stephen Larkham and arguably has a squad with more depth this season in all positions. They will likely be the strongest of the Australian teams, and should make the play-offs, but might not have enough to be genuine title contenders.
Player to watch: Loose-forward David Pocock returns after a 12 month sabbatical and how he goes in the Super Rugby season is important for both the Brumbies and Australia a year out from the World Cup. On his day he is among the best ‘fetchers’ in the world and also brings great leadership qualities to the pitch.
Forwards - Robbie Abel, Allan Alaalatoa, Ben Alexander, Richard Arnold, Rory Arnold, Sam Carter, Tom Cusack, Blake Enever, Mees Erasmus, Folau Fainga’a, Lolo Fakaosilea, Ben Hyne, Leslie Leulua’Iali’i-Makin, Josh Mann-Rea, Nic Mayhew, Lachlan McCaffrey, Isireli Naisarani, David Pocock, Scott Sio, Darcy Swain, Rob Valetini.
Backs - Tom Banks, James Dargaville, Kyle Godwin, Wharenui Hawera, Jordan Jackson-Hope, Tevita Kuridrani, Christian Lealiifano, Ryan Lonergan, Matt Lucas, Andrew Muirhead, Chance Peni-Ataera, Joe Powell, Andrew Smith, Henry Speight, Lausii Taliauli, James Verity-Amm.
MELBOURNE REBELS (Melbourne)
Coach: David Wessels (first year)
Captain: Adam Coleman
Last year’s finish: 18th (W-1, D-1, L-13)
Best performance: 10th (2015)
Chances: The Rebels won just a single game in 2017 and were, statistically at least, the worst side in the competition. They have looked to the now defunct Western Force to boost their chances this year, bringing in South African coach Dave Wessels from Perth, along with 10 former Force players, including new captain Adam Coleman. They should be an improvement on 2017, but are a long shot for the play-offs.
Player to watch: Having debuted for the Rebels as a teenager in 2016, centre Sione Tuipulotu could be a key figure for the side this year with his explosive running and athleticism. The Australia under-20 international is tipped for a big future in the game, and is likely to be given plenty of chances to showcase his talent in the coming campaign.
Forwards - Anaru Rangi, Jordan Uelese, Jermaine Ainsley, Ben Daley, Tetera Faulkner, Tom Moloney, Fereti Sa’aga, Sam Talakai, Laurie Weeks, Adam Coleman, Esei Ha’angana, Trevor Hosea, Sam Jeffries, Geoff Parling, Matt Philip, Alex Toolis, Angus Cottrell, Colby Fainga’a, Richard Hardwick, Ross Haylett-Petty, Rob Leota, Amanaki Mafi, Lopeti Timani.
Backs - Will Genia, Harrison Goddard, Michael Ruru, Nic Stirzaker, Tayler Adams, Jack Debreczeni, Jack McGregor, Reece Hodge, David Horwitz, Bill Meakes, Hunter Paisami, Sione Tuipulotu, Tom English, Henry Hutchison, Marika Koroibete, Sefa Naivalu, Semisi Tupou, Dane Haylett-Petty, Jack Maddocks.
QUEENSLAND REDS (Brisbane)
Coach: Brad Thorn (first year)
Captain: Scott Higginbotham
Last year’s finish: 14th (W-4, L-11)
Best performance: Champions (2011)
Chances: There has been much turmoil at the Reds in pre-season, with the arrests of fullback Karmichael Hunt and experienced loose-forward George Smith, and the axing of flyhalf Quade Cooper and scrumhalf Nick Frisby. New coach Brad Thorn has looked to bring in fresh talent to the squad and they may be marginally improved on 2017, but still not title contenders.
Player to watch: Scrumhalf James Tuttle looks as though he will be the man to replace Frisby in the side, charged with firing up a backline that has plenty of potential. At 21 he is fairly inexperienced, but is a local product and should relish the platform offered to him.
Forwards - Sef Fa’agase, Harry Hoopert, James Slipper, JP Smith, Taniela Tupou, Markus Vanzati, Alex Mafi, Andrew Ready, Brandon Paenga-Amosa, Angus Blyth, Kane Douglas, Harry Hockings, Izack Rodda, Lukhan Tui, Michael Gunn, Reece Hewat, Scott Higginbotham, Adam Korczyk, Angus Scott-Young, George Smith, Caleb Timu, Liam Wright.
Backs - Tate McDermott, Moses Sorovi, James Tuttle, Jono Lance, Ben Lucas, Hamish Stewart, Teti Tela, Chris Feauai-Sautia, Samu Kerevi, Duncan Paia’aua, Filipo Daugunu, Lachlan Maranta, Eto Nabuli, Izaia Perese, Karmichael Hunt, Aidan Toua.
NEW SOUTH WALES WARATAHS (Sydney)
Coach: Daryl Gibson (third year)
Captain: Michael Hooper
Last year’s finish: 16th (W-4, L-11)
Best performance: Champions (2014)
Chances: The Waratahs have made minimal squad changes from last season and perhaps most significantly see the return of Kurtley Beale to add some spark to the backline. Coach Daryl Gibson knows they underperformed in 2017 and that his squad is better than their 16th place finish, with the expectation now that they should push for a play-off place.
Player to watch: Young prop Shambeckler Vui was a stand-out at the under-20 World Cup in 2017 and arrives from the Western Force. How much he is used this season will be determined by the form of others, but if given a chance he is one to keep an eye on.
Forwards - Damien Fitzpatrick, Tolu Latu, Hugh Roach, Harry Johnson-Holmes, Sekope Kepu, Tom Robertson, Paddy Ryan, Matt Sandell, Shambeckler Vui, Ned Hannigan, Jed Holloway, Ryan McCauley, Nick Palmer, Rob Simmons, Tom Staniforth, Jack Dempsey, Michael Hooper, MacLean Jones, Kelly Meafua, Will Miller, Lachlan Swinton, Cody Walker, Michael Wells, Brad Wilkin.
Backs - Jake Gordon, Nick Phipps, Bernard Foley, Bryce Hegarty, Lalakai Foketi, Mack Mason, Israel Folau, Alex Newsome, Irae Simone, Andrew Kellaway, Taqele Naiyaravoro, Cam Clark, Kurtley Beale, Curtis Rona.
Coach: Jamie Joseph (first year)
Captains: Willie Britz & Yutaka Nagare
Last year’s finish: 17th (W-2, L-13)
Best performance: 17th (2017)
Chances: New Zealander Jamie Joseph will lead the Sunwolves this year, combining his duties as Japan national team coach. He has targeted a top-five finish, which shows the ambition they have after an overhaul of their squad that includes the signing of Georgian hooker Jaba Bregvadze and a number of South African forwards. In all their squad contains 16 players born outside of Japan. They should be more competitive, but are outsiders for the play-offs, despite Joseph’s optimism.
Player to watch: Bregvadze is the first Georgian to play Super Rugby and is vastly experienced having been to two World Cups and also played in France with Toulouse and England with Worcester Warriors. He will add quality to the team in both the front row of the scrums and in the lineouts.
Forwards - Jaba Bregvadze, Shota Horie, Yusuke Niwai, Takeshi Hino, Asaeli Ai Valu, Keita Inagaki, Shintaro Ishihara, Koo Ji-won, Craig Millar, Ruan Smith, Hencus van Wyk, Takuma Asahara, Grant Hattingh, Uwe Helu, Kazuki Himeno, Shinya Makabe, James Moore, Sam Wykes, Willie Britz, Lappies Labuschagne, Michael Leitch, Shunsuke Nunomaki, Ed Quirk, Yoshitaka Tokunaga, Wimpie van der Walt.
Backs - Yutaka Nagare, Fumiaki Tanaka, Keisuke Uchida, Hayden Parker, Yu Tamura, Timothy Lafaele, Michael Little, Daishi Murata, Ryoto Nakamura, Harumichi Tatekawa, Sione Teaupa, Will Tupou, Kenki Fukuoka, Lomano Lemeki, Hosea Saumaki, Gerhard van den Heever, Akihito Yamada, Kotaro Matsushima, Robbie Robinson
Compiled By Nick Said; Editing by Greg Stutchbury