After a nice summer break, Super Rugy AU 2021 is finally here and there's plenty to be excited about for this year's rendition.
Following the success of last year's competition and the roadblocks COVID-19 continues to throw up, Super Rugby AU is back for its second iteration. All five Australian Super Rugby sides -- including the Western Force -- are back challenging for the title of Australia's best team.
While there's been plenty to get excited about off the field, including the competition's new broadcast deal, it's the players who have us counting down until the season launches on Friday. So read on for our top 10 players to watch this season.
Top 10 players to watch
Byron Ralston (Western Force):
Part of the 2019 Junior Wallabies squad that featured so many 2020 Wallaby debutants, Ralston burst onto the scene when the Western Force returned to the fold as part of Super Rugby AU last year. A relative unknown before the season kicked off, Ralston became a key feature in the Force's game and soon garnered plenty of attention from fans. Scoring a sensational try on debut, the 21-year-old's season continued the trend, dotting down four tries in his seven games. Taking to the 2021 season with plenty of experience surrounding him, Ralston is sure to find even more space this year and will no doubt add to his try scoring tally.
Suliasi Vunivalu (Queensland Reds):
With no rugby under his belt and just weeks after winning the NRL title with the Melbourne Storm, Vunivalu was already in Wallabies gear and training with the squad, so impressive is his talent. But now is the time for him to stand up and make his mark. There's plenty of promise in the 25-year-old and there will be expectations he'll hit the ground running in his opening match for the Reds. An off-field drama however, has already put him on the backfoot - sidelined for the opening round, so he'll need to work extra hard to find his way back into rugby's good graces. It shouldn't be too hard though, with pace and ominous in space, Vunivalu will be a menace on the wing and will no doubt be atop the try scorer list for 2021.
Carlo Tizzano (NSW Waratahs):
The 21-year-old Western Australia product has plenty of fire in his belly and will finally get his chance to step out from behind Michael Hooper's shadow to make the Waratahs No. 7 jersey his own. Known for his ultra-competitiveness at training, Tizzano has been involved in plenty of scraps with teammates and is raring to go against his Super Rugby AU counterparts. A strong ball carrier, he also loves to play the enforcer role and will be aiming to make some big hits throughout the 2021 season. If he gets the chance to pair up with Lachie Swinton, there's sure to be fireworks when they take to the field.
Jeral Skelton (Melbourne Rebels):
Cousin of barnstorming former Wallaby Will Skelton, Skelton has already made a name for himself in the Australian men's sevens side and will be determined to make his mark in Super Rugby. Signing on to the Rebels in 2020, Skelton never made his way onto the field, but it's expected he'll make his Super Rugby debut early and solidify his place. A dynamic flanker, the 21-year-old has plenty of pace and makes hard-hitting dominant tackles. Expect to see him make plenty of tackle-busting runs and add some muscle in defence.
Len Ikitau (Brumbies):
Building his minutes throughout 2020 off the bench, Ikitau will be looking to solidify his spot in the starting XV after Tevita Kuridrani made the move west to the Force. Explosive at outside centre, Ikitau is a tackle-buster and with a mean step easily slots the gap on the way to the try line, while his defence is immense. In a side packed full of talent, it's hard to stand out amongst the mix at the Brumbies, but he easily made an impression despite his lack of minutes last year and is sure to rise to the challenge of helping his side make it back-to-back titles.
Will Harrison (NSW Waratahs):
Taking over the Waratahs' flyhalf role after Bernard Foley's departure in 2020, Harrison took some time to find his way as the side's playmaker, but eventually found his feet and was rewarded with a Wallabies call-up. A strong ball distributor and impressive ball runner, the 21-year-old garnered plenty of plaudits during his debut season. He was somewhat overshadowed by fellow Junior Wallaby Noah Lolesio though, who made himself known as a future Wallaby starter. With a swathe of players leaving the side at the end of 2020, the Waratahs will be up against it, and plenty of pressure will be on Harrison to lead the backline - the perfect test to prove himself as a future Wallaby starter.
Tom Robertson (Western Force):
Defecting from the Waratahs to the Force at the end of 2020, Robertson had struggled with several injuries in past years and failed to find a place in Dave Rennie's Wallabies squad last year. Moving to the Force, the prop is hoping to revitalize his career and return to the Test squad. Joining a Force side with a strong mix of youth and experience, the 26-year-old will play a vital role in their success in 2021 and will need to find his straps early in Perth, and get back to his scrummaging best.
Tate McDermott (Queensland Reds):
An old-head at the Reds despite being just 22-years-old, McDermott has been a pivotal player in the Reds resurrection over the past three years and will be instrumental in 2021 as they look to go one further and win the title. Building a strong 9-10 combination with James O'Connor last year, McDermott lead his backline with aplomb and his ball speed at the breakdown was impressive. His performances rewarded him with his Wallabies debut and with so many impressive halfbacks fighting for national duty, he'll need to step up again in 2021.
Fraser McReight (Queensland Reds):
With an abundance of impressive backrowers across Australia, eyes will be on McReight to see if he can back up his impressive 2020 Super Rugby season. Solidifying his place in the Reds backrow last year, McReight was rewarded for his impressive performances with his Wallabies debut. With captain Liam Wright sidelined for much of the season, pressure will be on the flanker to take on the weight of Wright's absence, but expect him to take the pressure in his stride. Michael Hooper's absence within the competition is sure to give him an extra boost.
Pete Samu (Brumbies): Hardly an unknown name with seven Wallabies caps and 26 Brumbies caps, Samu will again feature strongly in the Brumbies Super Rugby AU campaign. A standout in 2020 and pivotal in the Brumbies run to the title, Samu was rewarded with a recall to the Wallabies squad, but appeared in just one Test with Reds rookie Harry Wilson staking a claim on the gold jersey and Liam Wright slotting onto the bench. With Wilson considered the standout Super Rugby AU player in 2020, Samu will have plenty of work to do to impress and make his way back into Wallabies contention. Reds captain Liam Wright's injury also gives him the perfect opportunity to make his mark on the competition. Expect to see him make plenty of tackle-busting runs and hard hits.