As new teams in the heart of AFL territory, the Rebels and the Force have much in common. But there is a significant difference in their licensing conditions: the team from Melbourne is allowed to sign ten overseas players while the Perth franchise is only allowed one.
It is unlikely that the Rebels’ first year would have been anything but a disappointment had the ARU not given them special dispensation to sign foreign players, and failure to win the hearts and minds of Melbournians could well have seen the Rebels go the same way as their namesake in the now defunct ARC: confined to the dustbin of Australian rugby history.
The Rebels’ overseas players have been adopted not just by their supporters, but by the Australian rugby public as a whole.
Somerville is a mountain of strength in the engine-room, and with Polota-Nau and Moore injured, Ged Robinson has been the best hooker in Australian rugby.
Delve is always in the thick of things, Lipman has arguably been the stand out number 7 in Australia this year, and Cipriani has given his local counterparts a lesson in tactical kicking.
These charismatic players, together with the wily old warriors Mortlock and Gerrard, added to the coaching genius of Rod Macqueen, have provided the ideal environment to nurture aspiring Australian players such as Phipps, Saffy, Vuna, Kingi, Blake, Rooney and Mitchell.
But awarding the last two SuperRugby franchises to cities with no local player base is like trying to build tables without legs.
The alternative venue of Western Sydney, populated by the sons of rugby-playing islanders and kids who know how to pass a ball without hittting it with a closed fist, offered the potential to build a club that could have produced its own players.
Perth is further hamstrung by the unwillingness of many players to cross the Nullabor.
The Force consists of a group of hard-working forwards supported by a couple of clever backline generals in O’Connor and Shepherd.
John Mitchell instilled a laudable work ethic, but with few exciting players, they’re a dour team that is not particularly attractive to watch. Despite this, they still fill the ground for their home games, confirming that there is a market for a team in Perth.
But with the club perpetually battling for the wooden spoon, the fate of league’s Western Reds is a reminder that the Force’s long-term viability is not assured.
Allowing them the same dispensation given to the Rebels to sign overseas players could only be good for Perth and their long-suffering rugby supporters, as it has been for Melbourne.