The Force might just be the Super Rugby team with everything, and yet nothing, to lose this season.
WA’s Super Rugby franchise is yet to find out whether there will be a place for it among the 2018 iteration of the competition, with neither its survival or axing guaranteed.
The limbo they are in puts them in a unique spot among the Australian teams, each week trying to prove they have earned a place in Super Rugby but trying not to let speculation distract.
New coach Dave Wessels has been bullish about his team’s prospects, both on and off the field, with a government sponsorship adding to their financial credentials.
Adam Coleman and Dane Haylett-Petty earned their Wallabies debuts off the back of their 2016 Super Rugby and they along with Ben McCalman and fringe Wallabies Luke Morahan and Jono Lance will play a major role in the 2017 campaign.
INS + OUTS
IN: Curtis Rona (NRL), Ben Daley, Shambeckler Vui (U20s), Tatafu Polota-Nau (Waratahs), Ben Matwijow (Reds), Isi Naisarani (NRC), Michael Ruru, Bill Meakes (Gloucester), Chance Peni (NRL), Robbie Coleman (Brumbies), Alex Newsome (Australia U20s).
OUT: Ben Tapuai (Bath), Albert Nikoro (released), Brad Lacey (released), Junior Rasolea (Edinburgh), Ammon Matuato (released), Kyle Godwin (Brumbies), Alby Mathewson (New Zealand), Chris Alcock (Brumbies), Rory Walton (Carcassone), Steve Mafi (Castres), Tom Sexton (released), Nathan Charles (Clermont), Guy Millar (Highlanders), Chris Heiberg (Kings), Ollie Hoskins (London Irish)
Ben McCalman (thumb), Matt Hodgson (hamstring), Ben Matwijow (neck),
Had it not been for an injury setback, Tatafu Polota-Nau would have been in Bristol right now, packing down in the Premiership.
Fate had some other plans for the Wallabies’ back-up hooker, though, handing him a fresh start in Perth.
Polota-Nau brings 68 Tests and 140 Super Rugby caps of experience to the Force, making him invaluable in a team that has lacked composure in crucial moments.
MOST IMPORTANT PLAYER
Coleman was one of the stories of 2016, rewarded for his Force form with a Wallabies June Series debut.
In a second row merry-go-round at Test level, he became the constant in the starting team, handed the responsibility of calling the Wallabies lineouts.
An innocuous knock to the knee ended his season early, against Scotland on the Spring Tour, but Coleman will have returned to Perth armed with critical experience and knowledge.
While Australian teams’ set piece is often targeted by South Africa and New Zealand, with Coleman leading the way for the Force, theirs should be a weapon not a weakness.
Okay, he’s not so much a bolter as a man who’s time is surely about to come, but Lance seems the most likely Force player to crack Test selection this season.
He was on the verge of a debut in Paris last year, with Quade Cooper a late scratching, but a thrilling conclusion kept him on the pine.
A broken arm in the Wallaby XV match against the French Barbarians ended his season, but Lance has established himself as one of the country’s best playmakers, out of the shadow of Cooper and Bernard Foley.
Wallabies coach Michael Cheika suggested it would be only a matter of time before Lance would be legitimate in the Wallabies 23 and if he can stay fit, Lance will surely be donning gold in 2017.
WHAT THE COACH SAYS
Western Force coach Dave Wessels is confident his team can turn its fortunes around on and off the field.
“People thought we were going to be a sitting duck, guys that are talking about the viability of our long-term future in Super Rugby,” he said.
“It’s just galvanised the team to want to do well.
“It’s made them want to work hard and do those people proud.
Wessels’ philosophy when it comes to the Force’s style has been hard to miss in recent weeks, a risk vs reward approach.
“We’ve got to play to win, rather than just playing not to lose,” he said.
“That means every now and then we’re going to get knocked on our bum.”
WHAT’S A PASS MARK?
First of all, a pass mark is making it through to 2018, but that’s not really in the Force’s control.
On the field, winning more games against their conference rivals than they lose is a good start.
The Force have talked for seasons about a more attacking endeavour but never delivered, so if that finally comes to fruition in 2017, that will be a big tick.
11th. The Force will miss out on finals but will have a far improved record in a more competitive Australian conference than ever.