Sam Worthington
February 20, 2017 3:40pm,

THE Force enter 2017 with their future Super Rugby status up in the air.

But with new coach Dave Wessels and new recruit Tatafu Polota-Nau, there is hope.

Perth Spirit’s triumph in the 2016 National Rugby Championship shows there is talent out west while sponsorship from the Road Safety Commission — allied with the ‘Own the Force’ campaign — has crucially boosted the coffers.

Now it’s up to the team to perform — starting on Saturday with a daunting away game against the Waratahs at Allianz Stadium.

Wessels, a South African who gave the game away at a young age to pursue a career in coaching, has assembled an experienced support staff in Perth as he prepares for his first year at the helm.

Joe Barakat — a “salty old sea dog” in Wessel’s words — will “growl” at the forwards, while former Waratahs playmaker Shaun Berne will look after the backs after cutting his coaching teeth in Ireland.

Kevin Foote, a former South African sevens player, is the Force’s skills coach — the first time the club has had someone permanent fill that role.

“Large parts of our preseason were just on real basic sort of skills that will hopefully enable us to play the type of attacking rugby that we want to,” Wessels told

“When players understand how it fits into their game and why it’s important, then you get buy-in from them.

“The guys are embracing it.”

Wessels had a taste of the top job last season after Michael Foley’s reign ended unceremoniously towards the end of last year.

He said he was trying to build a “player-led environment” and has installed Ben McCalman and Heath Tessman as co-captains.

“It’s a very happy playing group but they’re also pushing each other hard,” Wessels said.

Dane Haylett-Petty and Ben McCalman.Dane Haylett-Petty and Ben McCalman.Source: FOX SPORTS
Among his new signings are NRL convert outside back Curtis Rona and Wallabies hooker Polota-Nau.

“Curtis is definitely a finisher, he’s big, powerful, fast but he’s also adding a lot off the field with his leadership,” Wessels said.

“He’s got a real calmness about him and that’s added a lot to our group.

“And Taf is great from a cultural perspective but he’s also one of the best hookers in the world and he’s proven that over a long period of time.”

Wessels claimed there was genuine competition for positions across the field, and said even Polota-Nau and former skipper Matt Hodgson were being made to fight for their starting spots.

“And in some years at the Force we haven’t had that, and that’s maybe put some players in a bit of a comfort zone,” Wessels said.

“Fundamentally we want to play to win, as opposed to the trap that fallen into before, which is playing not to lose or playing defensively.

“It doesn’t always mean just throwing the ball around, that means playing with real grit and a toughness about us.

“It’s being prepared to win and being willing to make a few errors along the way.”

Polata-Nau, 31, was the Force’s key off-season recruit and brings with him 68 Test caps and 140 appearances for the Waratahs.

The affable hooker has been surprised by how popular rugby was in the west but the key was getting the expat South African, New Zealand and Argentinian supporters to engage with the Force.

Polota-Nau said he was trying to instil in the younger players the need to be just as enthusiastic without the ball as they were with it.

Four new players in particular had caught his eye in pre-season.

“Curtis Rona and Chance Peni have league backgrounds but coming back to their home state, it’s really exciting,” Polota-Nau said.

“Get them in space and give them the ball — they’re just magicians.

“But also look out for (loose forwards) Kane Koteka and Richard Hardwick.

“They both played juniors in WA and they’re just like Siegfried and Roy.

“They read each other like they’ve never been separated so it will be very exciting to see that come to fruition.”

Polota-Nau claimed he had not spent much time thinking about Saturday night in Sydney, when he returns to play the club for which he gave a decade of blood, sweat and tears.

“I really enjoyed my time at the Tahs but it’s just as enjoyable to start somewhere new.

“I don’t want to drop my standards of being the best player I can be and hopefully the guys can feed off that.

“I’ve learnt to be a winner most of my life, really.

“Hopefully I can shed a bit of light on how to become a winner.”

Polota-Nau admitted last year’s broken arm had been deterring his mental health but, apart from a nasty scar, was now in good shape.

He is likely to come up against his old mate Tolu Latu in the scrum on Saturday, with Hugh Roach and Damien Fitzpatrick other familiar faces in the NSW hooking ranks.

“I’m pretty keen to test the arm against the old foe,” Polota-Nau grinned.

“I’ll have to use my inside knowledge on all the old boys and see what they’ve got.

“I wish I hadn’t taught them my tricks.”


Forwards: Jermaine Ainsley, Richard Arnold, Adam Coleman, Angus Cottrell, Pek Cowan, Ben Daley, Tetera Faulkner, Richard Hardwick, Ross Haylett-Petty, Matt Hodgson, Kane Koteka, Ben Matwijow, Ben McCalman (co-captain), Isi Naisarani, Matt Philip, Tatafu Polota-Nau, Anaru Rangi, Harry Scoble, Brynard Stander, Heath Tessmann (co-captain), Francios van Wyk, Shambeckler Vui

Backs: Marcel Brache, Luke Burton, Robbie Coleman, Peter Grant, Dane Haylett-Petty, Jono Lance, Ryan Louwrens, Semisi Masirewa, Bill Meakes, Luke Morahan, Chance Peni, Ian Prior, Curtis Rona, Michael Ruru


Head Coach: Dave Wessels

Attack Coach: Shaun Berne

Forwards Coach: Joe Barakat

Attack Specialist: Alan Gaffney

Skills Coach: Kevin Foote

Head of Athletic Performance: Will Markwick

Strength and Conditioning Coach: Scott Johnson

Team Doctor: Colm McCarthy

Head Physio Therapist: David Dawes

Rehab Physiotherapist: Ben Mather

Team Manager: Adam Crane

Assistant Team Manager: Tobias Hoskins


Round 1 v Waratahs

Round 2 v Reds

Round 3 v Brumbies

Round 4: Bye

Round 5 v Crusaders

Round 6 v Blues

Round 7 v Kings

Round 8: Bye

Round 9 v Chiefs

Round 10 v Lions

Round 11 v Sharks

Round 12 v Jaguares

Round 13 v Highlanders

Round 14 v Reds

Round 15 v Hurricanes

Round 16 v Rebels

Rounds 17 v Waratahs


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