Victoria’s development pathways continue to prosper with the Melbourne Rebels today proudly announcing the EDS signings of Shaw and Partners Under 19 Academy Members Wyatt Ballenger, Ottavio Tuipulotu and Judah Saumaisue.
The trio represent the latest wave of talented Victorians progressing through the state's grassroots and elite pathways system, after their 19s teammate and Australian U20’s star, Leafi Talataina, signed an EDS contract with the Rebels last year.
It’s been a year to remember for Ballenger, with the Marcellin College product named in the Australian Schools and U18s squad alongside Joey Fowler, following an eye-catching Club and 2022 Rebels U18 campaign.
Ballenger was the latest Rebels Academy player to receive selection in the prestigious squad following in the footsteps of Talataina and homegrown Wallabies duo Pone Fa’amausili and Rebels Captain Rob Leota.
“Signing with the Rebels is something I’ve always dreamed about since being at AAMI Park as a little kid. For this to finally be a reality is very special for myself and also my family here in Melbourne,” said Ballenger.
“Making my Super Rugby debut for my hometown team has always been a goal of mine, so this moment represents being a step closer to achieving that goal, which motivates me to keep working hard and doing everything I can to achieve that result in the future.”
Joining Ballenger is Rebels U19 Vice Captain Judah Saumaisue, who was this week named in Nathan Grey’s Australian U20’s preliminary squad alongside fellow Victorian Divad Palu and exciting fly-half Joey Fowler.
Born in Melbourne, the in-demand forward is a tantalising future prospect boasting a hulking 1.91 metre and 113 kg frame, while also carrying an impressive international pedigree having played for the Fiji U20s at the U20 World Championships held in South Africa.
“I’m very excited for this opportunity. This doesn't happen for a lot of players so I’m very grateful to everyone who has played a part in my development and for the Melbourne Rebels having such faith in me,” said Saumaisue.
“I was born and raised here in Melbourne, so it was alway a dream of mine to progress and sign with the Rebels, so now it’s a dream come true.”
Meanwhile, St Kevins product Ottavio Tuipulotu has become the third Tuipulotu to sign a professional contract after coming through the Victorian pathways and Rebels Academy, with his powerful and dynamic play catching the attention of his hometown Super Rugby team.
The hard working hooker said he’s grateful for the opportunity and determined to continue growing as a player. “It’s something I've been working towards for my whole life and it's very exciting for me. I've grown up in Melbourne, it's been my pathway all the way from under 12s all the way to the under 19s,” said Tuipulotu.
“This is my home. It’s pretty cool both my brothers and my sister-in-law have signed their professional contracts in rugby, so to follow their efforts is pretty exciting for my family.” Rebels GM of Rugby, Nick Stiles, said the signings were a testament to the hard work of the Victorian rugby community and the continued investment into the state’s pathways.
“It’s awesome to have three gifted young players, each in high-demand, commit to the Rebels and want to be part of the connected culture we’re continuing to grow here in Melbourne,” said Stiles.
“Along with Daniel Maiava, Isaac Kailea, Leafi Talataina, Lebron Naea and Divad Palu, Judah, Ottavio and Wyatt are part of that next generation of Burn Boys who have come through our pathways and as a Club, we’re so proud to reward their hard work and outstanding attitude with their first professional contract.
“Their growth and evolution once again shows our pathways and talent identification and development processes are working and creating outstanding opportunities for young Victorians, which is something our community should be immensely proud of.
“We also want to thank our incredible partners Transport Accident Commission (TAC) Victoria and Shaw and Partners for their unbelievable support, care and investment in helping drive the development of local talent here in Victoria.”