Japanese international hooker Shota Horie will not return to the Rebels for the 2015 Super Rugby season.

Horie injured himself playing for his Japanese Top League Club, Panasonic Wild Knights, and will remain in his homeland to continue his rehabilitation ahead of the 2015 Rugby World Cup.

Rebels’ Head Coach Tony McGahan was disappointed that Horie wouldn’t be returning to Melbourne.

“Shota is a player who brought a lot to the group, on and off the field, and is somebody the coaches enjoyed working with because of his ability and fantastic attitude,” McGahan said.

“He will always be a Rebel and will always be respected by everybody at the Club; we all wish him the best, and look forward to seeing him in action at the World Cup.”

For Horie, who made 19 Super Rugby appearances for the Rebels and scored one try during his two seasons, it’s disappointing not to have a chance to return to Melbourne and farewell the AAMI Park fans.

“It is unfortunate that I will not have the opportunity to return to Melbourne and play at AAMI Park,” Horie said.

“I have enjoyed my two years living in Melbourne, and playing for the Rebels, and I will miss all my teammates and all of the fans.

“I want to thank everybody for their support, and I hope you can make Japan your second team at the Rugby World Cup in 2015!”

The Rebels have moved quickly to secure a quality replacement for Shota, and have announced the signing of former Force and Biarritz hooker Ben Whittaker, who joins on a 12-month deal.

The 25-year-old Whittaker made 32 appearances during four seasons in Perth, before joining Biarritz in France.

He played alongside new teammates Cruze Ah-Nau, Paul Alo-Emile, Luke Jones and Mitch Inman at the Force, and is a former Australia A schools representative and Australian U20 international.

McGahan said Whittaker had impressed during a trial period in Melbourne, and would provide strong competition to fellow Rebel hookers Pat Leafa and Tom Sexton.

“Ben’s Super Rugby experience will benefit our group,” McGahan said.

“He’s keen to make the most of this opportunity, and we have faith in his ability to do just that.”

For Whittaker, the chance to resume his Super Rugby career in Melbourne was too good an opportunity to turn down.

“I’m feeling blessed to have the opportunity to resume my Super Rugby career in Melbourne,” Whittaker said.

“I am determined to work hard to put myself in the position to hopefully get out on to the field for the Rebels; I was fortunate enough to play in the Super Rugby competition at a young age, and I believe that some valuable lessons learnt from my time within professional environments mean I won’t be taking anything for granted.

"I’m looking forward to being a more complete and mature rugby player in Melbourne.”