The Melbourne Rising will cross the Nullarbor this weekend to tackle the table topping Western Force in Round 3 of NRC action.
The Rising will be looking to register their first win of the season after going down to NSW Country by 10 points last weekend in Adelaide.
The task doesn’t get an easier this Saturday, with the Force currently sitting atop of the ladder after a statement win over reigning premiers the Fijian Drua last weekend.
“The Force have demonstrated their tag as tournament favourites after getting the business done in Fiji,” stated Melbourne Rising Head Coach Pom Simona.
“Their time together as a squad clearly shows and they have a good understanding of how they want to play.
“This will be a huge challenge for our squad but one we are excited by.”
Wallaby openside Richard Hardwick will make his first appearance of the campaign, named alongside boom number 8 Rob Leota and Ikapote Tupai in a backrow bursting with talent.
Meanwhile, breakout wing sensation Nailati Ukalele retains his spot on the right edge after recording the second most run meters of any NRC player in Round 2.
“Nailati took his chances on the weekend and proved a real handful for the Eagles.
“As well as making plenty of run metres for us, he also ranked eighth in the competition for defenders beaten.
That’s the type of impact we’re looking for from Rodney Iona gets the nod at ten this week in the only change to the starting backline, with Michael Moloney relegated to the bench.
“Rodney has spent a bit of time with the Force so it will be an interesting time for him this Saturday.
“He will understand better than anyone how they like to play. I’m sure he will go out there with a point to prove,” stated Simona.
Rugby nursery Northern Panthers will also be excited to see another one of their juniors on the national stage; Moli Sooaemalelagi named as reserve hooker and set to finally don the Rising jersey after injury setbacks cruelled earlier attempts to gain selection.
Kickoff: 5pm (AEST) Sunday 15 Sept, UWA Sports Ground, Perth
Match Day 23 to face the Western Force
1. Matt Gibbon
2. Anaru Rangi
3. Vaauli Faamausili
4. Ross Haylett-Petty
5. Esei Haangana
6. Ikapote Tupai
7. Richard Hardwick
8. Rob Leota
9. Theo Strang
10. Rod Iona
11. Lolohea Loco
12. James Sooialo
13. Semisi Tupou (c)
14. Nailati Ukalele
15. Justin Marsters
16. Moli Sooaemalelagi
17. Fereti Sa'aga
18. Tetera Faulkner
19. Will Clift
20. Maciu Nabolakasi
21. Pat Morrey
22. Reece Fuller