MELBOURNE coach Damien Hill will not publicly state the target, but he knows the arithmetic. To reach the goal that has been voiced by several Rebels players of playing finals this season, the club will most likely need to win more than twice the number of games than it did in 2012.
The Rebels won four games in finishing 13th last season, and three games in their inaugural season when they finished bottom. Last year, teams from the fifth-placed Bulls to the eighth-placed Hurricanes won 10-from-16 games and the Rebels are believed to have privately set that as their goal.
Hill, talking at the launch of the Super Rugby season in Melbourne on Wednesday, said only that ''the expectations on the team this year are high''.
''I'm not going to put a number on it,'' Hill said. ''We want to win as many games as we can and if it's enough to get us into finals contention that's exactly what we're after.
''The point of difference between those four teams [last year] was their defence and that's one of the many areas of our game we've focused on during the pre-season to improve.
''We were the second-most improved team in the competition last year behind the Brumbies. There's confidence in the team, we've had a great pre-season, the squad's feeling strong, but that means nothing unless it turns into a result.''
Queensland captain James Horwill said he expected to see such improvement from the Rebels this season, although he predicted that they could fall just short of the finals.
Horwill said the Rebels ''had the ability to be a very, very good side'' but needed to find the belief to win games even when they were not playing to their best. He said he saw similarities to the Reds teams in the years before they won the title in 2011. The Rebels lost five games by seven points or less last season.
''The thing with this competition is consistency, being able to play well week in and week out and win games where you might not play your best game,'' Horwill said. ''I think that's an ability that can come with confidence … there is no way to try and train that, you've just got to have a confidence and belief that you can win games when you are in tough situations and that's the most important thing.''
Friday's season-opener against Western Force at AAMI Park will mark big-name recruit Scott Higginbotham's first game for the Rebels. Higginbotham has been named at blindside breakaway despite having not played in the trials because of a shoulder injury.
Former teammate Horwill said Higginbotham would live up to the expectations placed on him.
''He certainly brings his aggression and physicality. He's quite a dynamic ball carrier, he likes to sit out wide in the backs and play quite loose and quite aggressive,'' Horwill said. ''He's a fantastic lineout option, he'll be really good for those guys. If you look at the team they've picked for this weekend they've got three excellent lineout jumpers and Gareth's [Delve] a fourth, so that will certainly be a strength for them.''
Force coach Michael Foley said he expected the result would come down to a battle of the forwards.
''The Rebels forwards that we've talked about [have been] Higginbotham, Gareth Delve at No.8 … I think it is an interesting selection that they've left Cadeyrn Neville on the bench but again that just tells you what sort of depth they've got in the back five of their scrum,'' he said.
Foley lamented his team's recent poor record against the Rebels with three losses from their past three.
''The Rebels have had some fantastic wins and I think their recruitment's been extremely good,'' Foley said.
■Western Force skipper Matt Hodgson confirmed he wouldn't play on Friday night.
''I trained again today so it's all positive,'' Hodgson said of his hamstring problem. ''I think I won't be playing but I should be right for round two.''