Rebels skipper Leota's Hollywood pitch to save struggling club

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AUCKLAND, New Zealand -- Melbourne Rebels captain Rob Leota has called on Hollywood star power ahead of his team's Super Rugby Pacific opener next week as the club stares down the barrel of dissolution at the end of the 2024 season.

In Auckland for the season launch alongside all 12 Super Rugby Pacific captains, Leota did his best to make light of a tough situation, the Wallaby sending message to movie star and former junior teammate Jacob Elordi to head to AAMI Park during the year in what could potentially be the club's final season.

Playing alongside each other in high school in Melbourne, the pair became good friends and lock partners, with Leota joking Elordi's appearance at a game would bring the crowds in droves.

"You know what, if Jacob actually came to the game I think we'd get plenty of media attention," Leota told ESPN. "I played with him in Victoria when he moved from Brisbane, we were actually good mates when he was here, cause we both played and were lock partners, so from when we were 14 and then till right until he left when he was 17.

"He was cool. I actually chatted to him last year, I was trying to go to America, and I thought I'd just give a message and I didn't think he'd reply cause obviously he's in Hollywood now, but he actually replied and he's still the same person, still the same character. I knew he wouldn't change anyway, he's still a good bloke.

"If we could get Jacob down to a game I think we'd definitely have the crowd outside the stadium as well.

"Shout out to Jacob Elordi and Euphoria, we need to get you down to a game, bring Zendaya."

While an appearance from the Hollywood star would be a boost for the struggling club, Leota's focus is on keeping his team aligned ahead of next week's season kick-off following news the club is $20m in debt with a decision on the side's future expected to be made in coming weeks.

"The biggest challenge at the moment is obviously trying to keep the team aligned and controlling what we can," Leota said. "We know there [are] obviously people in the background that are working on that situation.

"For us the way we help keep this group all aligned is how we come in each day as focused as we can be, but it's also about being able to support those guys, whether we're going through any lows or highs, that's another way we keep aligned as well, supporting each other to keep focused on the common goal of having a successful year."

Leota credited coach Kevin Foote with keeping the team focused on the season ahead and not the off-field distractions.

"The biggest challenge was just trying to just keep everyone focused and I think that's credit a lot to our coach that Kevin Foote. The big thing about him is his care factor and wanting to see the boys happy, wanting to play good footy and caring about the boys.

"He's always uplifting the boys and I think it helps us as a playing group and the leadership group as well to be able to help with that messaging and when you have a coach like that, that just spreads that care factor and love towards everyone.

"Just his energy and how passionate he is, you see it every day, and just the way his vibe is when he comes in, he always has a smile on his face and wanting the team to get better each and every day.

"I think the cool thing for him is he's always trying to better himself as well. Feedback goes both ways, which is cool, and he always asks for that as well even as a head coach. When you see a head coach doing things like that, you're able to understand each other better."

It's expected the Rebels' future will be determined by early March, after it was revealed the franchise has only $17,300 in the bank.

Meanwhile, the Rebels' board is demanding Rugby Australia [RA] cough up $8m they believe the governing body owes the club. Club administrators claim RA owes $6m for underfunding the franchise over a number of years, and an additional $2m to cover the cost of Rebels' player wages while they were on Wallabies duties.

RA chief Phil Waugh was questioned on the creditors meeting and the future of the club but refused to put a timeframe on when a decision would be made.

"We had the creditors meeting, there's a claim against Rugby Australia and it's exactly that, it's a claim," Waugh told media in Auckland. "We'll work through that with the administrators and the appropriate process.

"We're focused on the 2024 season and getting a successful Rebels team out on the pitch.

"It's really important [we give certainty to players] for the players and management around what their careers look like in 25 and beyond. When you're starting to build out rosters, it's really important to get ahead.

"I don't want to put a timeframe on it. It's very early days."