The second season of Super Rugby AU is here, kicking off with a double-header this Friday.
New broadcasters Nine Entertainment Co. and Stan Sport will officially take their rugby broadcasting bow, too, with the matches to be screened live in what is an historic day for Australian rugby.
The action kicks off in Brisbane where the Reds host the Waratahs in the latest edition of Australian rugby's greatest rivalry, before we jump across to Perth for the Western Force's first Super Rugby home game since 2017.
The Force play host to defending champions, the Brumbies, at HBF Park.
Read on for the team lists, odds and analysis of both this weekend's fixtures.
Friday, February 17
Reds: Jock Campbell, Jordan Petaia, Hunter Paisami, Hamish Stewart, Filipo Daugunu, James O'Connor, Tate McDermott; Harry Wilson, Fraser McReight, Angus Scott-Young, Seru Uru, Angus Blyth, Feao Fotuaika, Alex Mafi, Dane Zander.
Replacements: Richie Asiata, Harry Hoopert, Taniela Tupou, Ryan Smith, Tuania Taii Tualima, Moses Sorovi, Bryce Hegarty, Ilaisa Droasese.
Waratahs: Jack Maddocks, Alex Newsome, Izaia Perese, Joey Walton, James Ramm, Will Harrison, Jake Gordon; Jack Dempsey, Carlo Tizzano, Will Harris, Jack Whetton, Sam Caird, Harry Johnson-Holmes, Tom Horton, Angus Bell.
Replacements: David Porecki, Tetera Faulkner, Sio Tatola, Jeremy Williams, Hugh Sinclair, Jack Grant, Tane Edmed, Mark Nawaqanitawase.
Odds [tab.com.au]: Reds $1.33 [-8.5 $1.85], Waratahs $3.35 [+8.5 $1.95]
Verdict: Their star offseason recruit may have been omitted due to disciplinary reasons, but the Reds have still named an imposing starting side for the visit of the Waratahs. And they will then be able to bring Taniela Tupou, last year's Super Rugby AU Player of the Year, off the bench in the second half. The other notable absence is that of skipper Liam Wright, who suffered a serious knee injury in a preseason trial against the Waratahs. The Reds are deserved favourites but the Waratahs will head to Brisbane with a point to prove, with many critics having already written off NSW. If Rob Penney's side can hang with the Reds early, and disrupt what was the competition's worst lineout last season, then the hosts could feel the pressure late in the contest. But there just looks to be too much firepower in this Reds backline, even without Suliasi Vunivalu, for Queensland not to pull away in the second half. Reds by 14.
Force: Rob Kearney, Byron Ralston, Tevita Kuridrani, Kyle Godwin, Marcel Brache, Jono Lance, Ian Prior (c); Brynard Stander, Kane Koteka, Tomas Lezana, Fergus Lee Warner, Jeremy Thrush, Santiago Medrano, Feleti Kaitu'u, Tom Robertson.
Replacements: Andrew Ready, Angus Wagner, Greg Holmes, Ryan McCauley, Tim Anstee, Tomas Cubelli, Jake McIntyre, Richard Kahui.
Brumbies: Tom Banks, Andy Muirhead, Len Ikitau, Irae Simone, Mack Hansen, Noah Lolesio, Nic White; Pete Samu, Jahrome Brown, Rob Valetini, Cadeyrn Neville, Darcy Swain, Alan Alaalatoa, Folau Fainga'a, James Slipper.
Replacements: Connal McInerney, Harry Lloyd, Tom Ross, Nick Frost, Tom Cusack, Ryan Lonergan, Reesjan Pasitoa, Issak Fines-Leleiwasa.
Odds [tab.com.au]: Force $2.80 [+5.5 $1.90], Brumbies $1.44 [-5.5 1.90]
Verdict: Super Rugby returns to Perth at long last with the Force having last played a fixture in any Super tournament at home back in 2017. This promises to be an historic night for the Force and their faithful Sea of Blue supporters. And they should have more to cheer on, too, this season given the recruiting that has taken place by coach Tim Sampson and head of rugby Matt Hodgson. Already, the Force's starting line-up has an infinitely more dangerous look to it, while they will also bring genuine quality off the bench as well. But the same can be said of the Brumbies who count nine Wallabies among their starting side. The Brumbies should just be too clinical in this one and have the benefit of their superb driving maul to call on, just as they did in a trial against the Force last week. Better days lie ahead for the Force, and they certainly won't go through this year at 0-8, but beating the Brumbies first up looks a bridge too far. Brumbies by 5.