MELBOURNE (Reuters) - As Australia's youngest Super Rugby side, the Melbourne Rebels are mindful of the struggles the three expansion teams face in joining the world's toughest club rugby competition.
The Rebels joined the southern hemisphere tournament as Australia's fifth side in 2011, charged with carving out a niche in a city already saturated by 11 professional teams in rival football codes.
Pundits complained that the competition was not ready for a 15th franchise and that Australia's limited playing pool could not sustain four sides, let alone five.
After five years of toil on the playing field, multi-million dollar losses and the turnover of a string of CEOs, the Rebels now feel more assured of their place in Australian rugby.
But the broader competition is under the microscope as it attempts an ambitious expansion to 18 teams that brings Super Rugby to Argentina, Japan and Singapore for the first time.
Of the three expansion sides, the Buenos Aires-based Jaguares, laden with Argentina internationals, appear best placed to weather the shock of the new.
More concerns surround the re-entry of the Southern Kings as a sixth South Africa franchise and the introduction of the Tokyo-based Sunwolves, who will also play home games in Singapore.
The Port Elizabeth-based Southern Kings survived one season of Super Rugby in 2013 before being replaced by Johannesburg's Lions and their buildup to the coming campaign has been dogged by financial problems.
The Sunwolves have only had a head coach since December and a number of Japan's top internationals have turned their backs on the outfit to play with rival sides in the tournament.
"The one thing certainly that we know is that it is not easy to put together a franchise and be successful from the get-go and have that consistency and ability because it is a big shock," Rebels coach Tony McGahan, who will guide the team into a third season, told Reuters in an interview.
"The travel, the organising, the logistics of what a Super competition brings as opposed to a lot of rugby competitions which are essentially just domestic -- there will be a lot of learnings there.
"It's not about right now. I'm sure that all those decisions and why they joined was for the good of the game long-term as opposed to what they can do in their first season."
Australia's first privately-run Super Rugby team, the Rebels entered the competition with the backing of corporate heavyweights and under the guidance of World Cup-winning Wallabies coach Rod Macqueen.
With a roster of rookies and international journeymen, the Rebels posted three wins in their opening season and four in the second.
Gradual on-field improvements were undermined by a litany of off-field problems, however, and by 2013, the Rebels were under the charge of a fifth CEO and buffeted by incidents of indiscipline among players.
Culture problems among the playing group were a factor in the departure of Macqueen's successor Damien Hill, and McGahan has since battled to protect his playing group from rival recruiters and natural attrition.
McGahan, who coached the Rebels to a franchise record seven wins last season, said the three expansion teams needed to worry less about their win-loss records than laying the foundations for future success.
"Performance is not even guaranteed for sides that have been there for a long time," said McGahan, who coached Irish club Munster to two Celtic League titles during his tenure from 2008-12.
"The big thing is really having a very strong vision of where you want to end up, not necessarily after year one but where you want to go after the first four or five years.
"Wins are important obviously because you need that. But if you don't have any stability or any base to build from, you're not going to go forward at all.
"You need to have some chance of where you're going with your playing list."
(Editing by John O'Brien)