Doubters add to Force's chip-on-shoulder mentality
Western Force coach Simon Cron is embracing the doomsday talk surrounding his side's title hopes, saying it gives his players extra motivation to prove the doubters wrong.
Cron has named nine Force debutants in his starting side for Saturday night's Super Rugby Pacific first-round clash with the Melbourne Rebels in Perth.
New captain Michael Wells headlines the newcomers, with the fresh faces also including Wallabies hooker Folau Fainga'a, locks Jeremy Williams and Felix Kalapu, flyhalf Bryce Hegarty, and inside centre Hamish Stewart.
English duo Zach Kibirige and Sam Spink, and former Chiefs fullback Chase Tiatia round out the run-on Force debutants.
The loss of star Wallabies lock Izack Rodda to a fractured foot has seen the Force's title odds drift from $101 to $126 in some betting markets.
Those dire predictions haven't dampened the spirit of Cron one bit, and he predicts the players will use it as ammunition.
"If you don't have a chip on your shoulder when you're playing then you shouldn't play, so there's another little nice chip for us," Cron said when asked about the astronomical title odds.
"I think you've got to be self motivated, but it's always good to know (when people are writing you off).
"There's nothing better than people losing money on you if they bet against you."
Rodda missed the entire 2022 international season after undergoing surgery on a fractured right foot.
The 26-year-old played in both of the Force's recent pre-season matches, but has since been diagnosed with another fracture in the same foot.
No timeline has been set for his return, but Cron is optimistic it won't be a long-term lay-off.
"I think any stress fracture in the foot is annoying in terms of time frames," Cron said.
"But ultimately what usually happens is you do have something like this in terms of recurrences at times and it's fine, because it can be easier to come back from than the first one.
"I think he's in a really good mindset around it. I think you'll see a positive outcome in the long run."
The battle for the Wallabies hooking role kicks off with ex-Red Alex Mafi lining up for the Rebels against Fainga'a, who joined the Force from the Brumbies.
Wallabies pair Matt Gibbon and Sam Talakai join him in a powerful Rebels front row.
Melbourne-born Italy Test winger Monty Ioane will make Super debut, while lock Tuaina Taii Tualima and back-rower Vaiolini Ekuasi are also in Rebels colours for the first time.
Ryan Louwrens returns to Melbourne and will partner 22-year-old five-eighth Carter Gordon in the halves, while Wallabies utility Reece Hodge will start at outside centre.
Rebels: Matt Gibbon, Alex Mafi, Sam Talakai, Josh Canham, Tuaina Taii Tualima, Josh Kemeny, Brad Wilkin (c), Richard Hardwick, Ryan Louwrens, Carter Gordon, Monty Ioane, Stacey Ili, Reece Hodge, Lachlan Anderson, Nick Jooste. Res: Jordan Uelese, Isaac Aedo Kailea, Pone Fa'amausili, Trevor Hosea, Tamati Ioane, Vaiolini Ekuasi, James Tuttle, Lukas Ripley.
Force: Tom Robertson, Folau Fainga'a, Santiago Medrano, Felix Kalapu, Jeremy Williams, Tim Anstee, Ollie Callan, Michael Wells (c), Ian Prior, Bryce Hegarty, Zach Kibirige, Hamish Stewart, Sam Spink, Manasa Mataele, Chase Tiatia. Res: Feleti Kaitu'u, Angus Wagner, Siosifa Amone, Jackson Pugh, Issak Fines-Leleiwasa, Bayley Kuenzle, Toni Pulu.