RUGBY super stars Israel Folau, Kurtley Beale and Scott Higginbotham are expected to line up when the Melbourne Rebels take on the NSW Waratahs in a trial game on the Border next year.
The Tigers footy fortress, Albury Sportsground, will square up its boundaries for the Super-15 twilight fixture on February 1 that could feature as many as 13 Wallabies.
The teams are expected to field near-full-strength squads for the trial less than a month out from the season opener.
The Wallabies new spring tour to Europe includes 11 Waratahs. The Rebels have two regulars in the national team.
And while Albury Mayor Kevin Mack predicted a crowd of about 4000, rugby fans are talking double that number.
Rebels team manager Scott Harrison said the club would bring its best to the Border.
“Trial games are important to the Rebels for many reasons — even more so this year,” he said.
“We have 14 new players on the books and so these pre-season games will help establish the structures we use for the rest of the year.
“So despite being atrial, I’d expect the boys will be out to impress and come out pretty hard.
“And there is some history between the clubs — we knocked the Waratahs off in our last clash which was a first for us so no doubt they will be looking for revenge, too.
“It will be a full-strength squad that will be rotated in the first and second halves. Everyone who is fit will get a run.”
Harrison said that would include one of the stars of Super Rugby Scott Higginbotham.
“Scott will miss the Wallabies tour through injury but he will be right for the start of next year,” he said.
Waratah’s match manager Terry Woodward said the new season was the start of a new era for the Sky Blues.
“It is fair to say that we have been a bit disappointing in recent years,” he said.
“But we have had a massive turnover of players and now have a second-year coach in Michael Cheika who has brought a new style of play that we were starting to get right at the end of last season.
“We are looking for a new beginning.
“In terms of the squad, there could be limitations on the Wallaby players coming back from the spring tour.
“But the Waratahs will be bringing down the full squad and we will probably spend two days on the Border before the game.”
Albury Wodonga Steamers president Justin Clancy said he expected Border sports fans to turn out it force.
“The Rebels got 6000 to a trial in Hobart this year and I’d be surprised if we didn’t get more than that,” he said.
“This was an initiative of Ros Walls and her team at Albury City and we, as a rugby club, benefit through that.
“I think sport in general on the Border benefits from having elite sporting events like this.
“Outside of international competition, these are the best rugby players in the country — this is the elite.”
The game will be played on the weekend before the A-league clash between Melbourne Heart and Perth Glory.