Melbourne coach Tony McGahan admits 2014 is a watershed year for the Rebels, with success crucial to them retaining support in the Victorian capital.

Melbourne coach Tony McGahan admits the Rebels risk losing their fragile hold on a Victorian supporter base if they can’t overcome the loss of several high-profile stars this Super Rugby season.

With noted disciplinarian McGahan at the helm, rival teams are predicting the Rebels to be a potential dark horse in the hotly contested Australian Conference, but the new coach has warned of the consequences if they don’t.

The Rebels are trying to establish a strong club culture in a saturated AFL market that also boasts the consistently successful NRL side, the Melbourne Storm.

Melbourne have gradually improved in their three seasons of Super Rugby, but are yet to threaten for a finals berth, and last year they were set back by negative headlines surrounding big-name players Kurtley Beale and James O’Connor.

Without the trouble-making pair, the Rebels have a chance for a fresh start, but at the same time they are forced to forge ahead without two of their most marketable and match-winning commodities.

McGahan says his focus has been on enhancing the attitude and self-belief of his team of underdogs, which starts with improving their defence.

“For us we really want to make sure we’re consistent. Winning our home games is the No.1 priority,” he told AAP.

“We know there’s not a lot of time and patience out there for any code or any team for that mater.

“We have been in the competition three years and in normal circumstances we’ve got longer, but we understand the market we’re in.

“We’re under no illusions we need to get results to have a team and a style of play members can identify with. And that’s in a tough market down there with the Melbourne Storm who do exceptionally well.”

NSW rival Michael Cheika used to come up against McGahan in European rugby clashes, and says the Rebels have appointed a coach who knows how to get consistency from his players.

Five-eighth is the great unknown for Melbourne, with youngster Bryce Hegarty expected to shoulder responsibilities at No.10.

The Rebels are undefeated in their trial matches and halfback Luke Burgess said McGahan had flicked a switch in the group.

“He’s not prepared to ask someone to do something he’s not prepared to do himself,” Burgess said.

“His work ethic is incredible, I’ve never met anyone like him in rugby. It’s pretty inspirational to hear him talk about his expectations.”

The Western Force were the only team not properly represented at Wednesday’s Super Rugby launch in Sydney, with coach Michael Foley and captain Matt Hodgson not making the trip across.

However, other coaches and key personnel were tipping a dog-fight in the Australian Conference, with last year’s grand finalists the Brumbies and 2011 premiers Queensland to once again lead the way, with the Waratahs – armed with star recruits – to make a charge.

“We’re just hungry, we’re looking forward to it,” said Reds halfback Will Genia.