Super rivals Rebels and Force to resume hostilities
A battle is brewing on and off the field between rivals Melbourne and the Western Force with coaches, captains and players having plenty to prove in their round one Super Rugby Pacific clash.
Already historic arch-rivals, Saturday night's HBF Park match has extra feeling with Force coach Tim Sampson, who was replaced by Simon Cron, now a Rebels assistant.
Adding spice, Melbourne skipper Michael Wells is now the Force captain after his off-season departure while Rebels coach Kevin Foote was once an assistant at the West Australian side.
Both teams will be desperate for a statement start after missing finals last year.
Loyalties aside, a key to victory will be the man in the No.10 jersey with the Force pulling a surprise by naming Bryce Hegarty while the Rebels are backing Carter Gordon.
New Melbourne skipper Brad Wilkin expects 22-year-old Gordon to flourish without the safety net of Matt Toomua in the side, with the ex-Wallabies playmaker now based in Japan.
"Carter's got the ability to sort of take charge now - it's his team, it's his backline so he can do it his way and I think that will suit his style of game-play by taking the ball to the line," Wilkin said.
"He loves getting stuck into the contact and tackling so just having that bigger responsibility without the likes of Mattie has given him the confidence to play how he wants to play."
Cron, who was a Waratahs assistant before three years coaching in Japan, opted for Hegarty ahead of Hamish Stewart who will slot in at inside centre.
Last year's No.1 playmaker Reesjan Pasitoa will miss the majority of the season with a knee injury, and Cron was impressed by Hegarty's brief cameo in last week's trial game loss to Fijian Drua.
"Bryce is a conductor, so what that means is his voice is very dominant," Cron said.
"He's very good at commanding what's happening during games and the boys will hear it.
"We know Hamish can play 12 and we've given him opportunities to play 10 over the last few weeks because he's going to end up there for us, and he needs to be able to play both.
"So I think you'll see both of those boys playing 10 for us throughout the year."
The Rebels have a few new faces, most notably Italy winger Monte Ioane.
The Force have nine new players in the run-on side, among them former Brumbies hooker Folau Fainga'a who will butt heads with Rebels recruit, ex-Reds rake Alex Mafi.
New Wallabies coach Eddie Jones will keep a close watch on their duel with both hoping to force their way into World Cup consideration.