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Waratahs the team to beat: Macqueen

John Salvado 15/02/2011 05:06:49 PM Comments (0)

Melbourne Rebels coach Rod Macqueen has declared the Waratahs as the deserved favourites to win their first Super Rugby title in 2011.

The Waratahs aren't rated in the top three by most bookies but Macqueen says he considers them the top contenders.

The new Melbourne franchise face a baptism of fire on Friday night when they kick off the season at home before an expected full house at AAMI Park against NSW.

"We're really not looking beyond the first game," former Australian and Brumbies mentor Macqueen said before training on Tuesday.

"That might sound surprising, but that's going to give us a better idea as to where we stand and I think that after that we'll be setting goals and sorting ourselves out from there.

"We've said from day one we want to be competitive ... but we'll be more specific as far the points we'll be looking to get in the ensuing weeks."

The last Australian team to enter the competition was the Western Force, who finished last and won only one match in their debut season in 2007.

External expectations are higher for the Rebels, even if Macqueen claims that challenges don't come much tougher than first-up against the Waratahs.

"It is a big test for us and we've been aware of that," he said.

"The Waratahs are full of Wallabies, they're a side that has played together for quite a few years and so they're getting better at what they're doing.

"I think that they deserve to be favourites this year in the Super competition, probably of all the Super teams."

Although the bookies have tipped NSW to win the Australian conference, perennial powerhouses the Crusaders and the Bulls, along with the Hurricanes, are listed as the overall 2011 title favourites.

Macqueen will name his starting lineup on Wednesday, with most interest on whether former Wallaby Julian Huxley is fit to take his place at fullback.

Huxley, 31, has been battling osteitis pubis and has only played part of one of the Rebels four trial games.

"Julian just didn't train for some of the parts yesterday as a precautionary measure," said Macqueen.

"Most of our players are fit to play, which is one of the things we were worried about earlier on, how many injuries we had.

"We're looking pretty good at this stage.

"... we'll be announcing the side tomorrow and there will be a few disappointed players.

"But one thing that has come out in this competition is that the whole 30 odd players will end up getting a run because it's such a long year."

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