The Melbourne Rebels are backing their Wallaby-in-waiting Nic Stirzaker by naming him captain for the 2016 Super Rugby season.
Rebels coach Tony McGahan has opted for the 24-year-old halfback as a long-term skipper following the departure of Scott Higginbotham to Japan.
With Will Genia and Nic White now playing in Europe, Stirzaker is hot favourite to join the Wallabies this year behind incumbent No.9, Waratah Nick Phipps.
McGahan said it was year of opportunity for Stirzaker and his talented young halves co-hort Jack Debreczini.
He said Stirzaker was a stand-out choice, despite the wealth of experience with current Wallabies Sean McMahon and James Hanson as well as former Test players Mike Harris, Tamati Ellison and Adam Thomson in the squad.
“We’re delighted to name a long-term captain,” McGahan said.
“With the way that Nic has carried himself ever since he’s come into the club with regard to his work ethic and his competitive nature and more importantly where he’s at with his game, we have a lot of faith in what Nic’s going to deliver.”
Stirzaker has played 37 Super Rugby games for Melbourne since making his debut in 2012.
He also captained their 2014 Melbourne Rising team, which went through the competition undefeated before losing the semi-final.
Stirzaker said that experience gave him confidence in the role at a Super Rugby level.
“It’s a really big honour to lead all my mates but for me not too much has to change,” he said.
“I have to just keep playing well and setting a good example around the team but we’ve got a lot of good leaders with plenty of experience so there’s lots of guys to lean on.”
While he shares the same ginger hair as Higginbotham, Stirzaker said that was where the similarity ended.
“I’m probably a bit more blunt in my communication than Scott is,” Stirzaker said.
Stirzaker missed the final trial match in Melbourne on Thursday night when the Rebels thrashed Samoa A 85-0, scoring 13 tries.
He recently suffered a setback following shoulder surgery last year but was confident he would be fit for the Rebels’ opening match against the Western Force in Perth on February 27.