2013 Season Preview: WESTERN FORCE

2013 Season Preview: Western Force

2013 Season Preview: Western Force

by Brendan Bradford –

By any standards, the 2012 season was a disappointment for the Western Force. Needlessly distracted by off-field dramas including the mid-season sacking of coach Richard Graham after he announced his defection to the Reds in 2013, the uncertain future of captain David Pocock and the Will Genia contract debacle, the Force limped across the line with just three wins, finishing last in the Australian conference and 14th overall.

To top it all off, foundation player and Australian rugby legend, Nathan Sharpe, called time on his illustrious career, leaving a giant hole in terms of talent, nous and experience. After six seasons in the competition, the Force has yet to make a finals appearance but change is afoot and with new CEO Mark Sinderberry, incoming coach Michael Foley and club stalwart Matt Hodgson taking up the captaincy reins, the franchise is building for the future and is determined to leave the past behind.

With 13 new recruits including South African live wire fly-half Sias Ebersohn, former All Black halfback Alby Mathewson and a host of the best up-and-coming club talent, there’s a sense of renewal at the Force that flows right from head office, through to the coaching and playing ranks. As has happened in the past though, a fresh start doesn’t always mean better fortunes and the side knows that the road towards improvement and a stronger presence in the Australian conference will be a hard one.

Wallaby prop Salesi Ma’afu is about to complete his second year in the West before heading to Europe. The 29-year-old had an injury affected 2012 but is looking for a full season with which to help the cause and he’s desperate to depart with the Force in good health. Another player who spent a fair bit of time on the physio’s table is Pat Dellitt. The utility back only managed 5 appearances last season but impressed every time he took to the field. He too is hoping for better things in 2013 for both himself and the Force.

Rugby News caught up with them both recently to discuss the up-coming Super Rugby season and how the new regime is ticking along at nib Stadium.


Looking back to last year, it probably wasn’t the best season in terms of results, but you had a few memorable wins along the way over the Waratahs and the Reds. How would you sum it up?

14 test Wallaby Salesi Ma'afu is looking to go out on a high with the Force before moving to Europe

14 test Wallaby Salesi Ma’afu is looking to go out on a high with the Force before moving to Europe

SM: “Mate, disappointing, that’s the only word I can put to it. But we learnt a lot about ourselves, the team and our character and we took what positives we could and we’ll be much more prepared for this season. There’s a lot of good things we’re putting in place.”

PD: “In a word: disrupted. Losing a coach and having a cloud hanging over you as far as what your captain is doing is pretty disruptive but we’ve got a good group of guys this season and we’ve tried to change the culture, which I think played a huge part in our results last year.”

You mentioned the off-field distractions but at times it seemed like they actually pulled you together as a team. Obviously, there were more negatives than positives though?

PD: “You can’t really make any excuses, and at the end of the day we’re there to play footy and we didn’t play our best. But, playing with those clouds in the back of your mind is always an issue. Any team that doesn’t have a coach doesn’t have a steady setting from the top and can easily be disrupted.”

SM: “It’s something you can’t really avoid in the pro set-up. There’s going to be distractions from time to time and it can’t always be a straight line. But we’re better for it now, guys have moved on, new guys have come in and everything’s for the good of the club.”

With players coming in from the Shute Shield, New Zealand, South Africa and other franchises, there seems to be a bit of rejuvenation at the club?

PD: “Yep, and we’ve spoken about that. All the new guys have come in and pushed the fully contracted guys, so it’s a really competitive environment, but we’ve been drilling it into them that the job isn’t done. They’ve trained and worked hard but they know – as we all do – that the hardest part is still ahead.”

SM: “The new guys have all been very impressive. They’re working hard and they bring a lot to the table, but when you’ve got the blue jersey on it’s about who can get the job done on the day. We’ve done a good job of gelling, so everyone is going in one direction and we’ve all bought into it. It’s a good bunch of blokes.”

PD: There’ve been a lot of changes with a new CEO, new coaches, new captain and all that kind of stuff, which has really concreted that dimension of the Force as an organisation. I think the players are feeling quite confident and settled.”

2013 Western Force Ins & Outs

2013 Western Force Ins & Outs

What are your first impressions of Michael Foley?

SM: “He’s done a great job so far in putting together a good environment and making it a lot easier to come in and do the best we can every day. We come in at 6:30-7 in the morning and we’re here together till the late afternoon and we’re really enjoying each other’s company. Guys have got less to worry about and that’s a credit to the coaches. It’s something that was really needed and it’s changed the culture of the club.”

PD: “We’re doing a lot more ball work and a lot more rugby compared to previous years which is positive and he’s brought the basics back to what we do. I know he’s got the support of the players and there’s a really positive vibe around the club so I think he’s just as excited about the future as we are. It’s been tough but very rewarding and I think all the boys are feeling good.”

You appear to have plenty of competition for spots in the side this year?

SM: Yeah, there is and we’ve got a lot more depth with the young guys stepping up and making it really difficult for senior guys. That’s right across the park, which is great and everyone’s enjoying the challenge. There’ve been no passengers this year.”

PD: There’ve been a few changes with guys training in new positions too, so as far as anyone thinking they’ve got a position cemented in the team, with all the new guys coming in, everyone has really been challenged to put their best foot forward.”

Matt Hodgson has been around a while, how has he slotted into the captaincy?

SM: “He’s done a really good job. He’s well balanced, he’s got the respect of the players and the boys get on well with him but he’s quite firm when he needs to be. He’s a foundation player and has always been a leader, so he knows the place and has a lot of respect. We’re always going to be behind him and back his decisions and it’ll be good for the club.”

Last season you were both hampered by injury (Ma’afu suffered a broken arm while Dellit battled a groin injury). Are you fully fit now?

An injury free 2013 should see Pat Dellitt further enhance his Super Rugby credentials

An injury free 2013 should see Pat Dellitt further enhance his Super Rugby credentials

SM: “Yep, fully recovered, fit and ready to go. I was due for a preseason and I’m probably in the best shape for the start of a season that I have been in my whole career. Every time you go without one, you fall off the pace in terms of strength and conditioning, but this year I’m in line with everyone else, which is good for me and good for the team.

PD: “Yeah, it’s always good to have a full preseason under your belt and attack the season as opposed to just rolling into it. I’m feeling really good, I’m loving playing with the new guys and there’s a really good energy so I just hope I can contribute and we can win together.”

You’ve played a few backline positions in your career Pat, where have you been training this preseason?

PD: “For the majority, I’ve trained on the wing, which is new. I’ve played a lot at fullback and in the last few seasons I’ve played at outside centre, but I’m looking forward to getting the ball in those wide channels and attacking.”

The Force struggled to get the ball out wide at times last season, is that something you’ve focused on?

PD: “We had some serious strike power on the wings who probably didn’t get the ball as much as they would’ve liked, so we’ve definitely been trying to bring the back three in as genuine attack options. The style of football we’re trying to play is generally up-tempo and quite exciting and you’ll definitely see us spread the ball.

Finally, the British and Irish Lions tour will be a huge event on the rugby calendar this year. What are your goals in terms of that tour?

SM:  “Getting back into the Wallabies side is definitely in my sights and in the sights of every other player in Australia I guess, but I’ve just gotta take it week by week and do my job. I’d love to be there in June when they hit our shores.”

PD: That’s a huge tour and to be able to say I’ve played against them is a huge thing and obviously the boys have spoken about it, but at this stage that’s a while off and our focus is Super Rugby.”


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