Hooker Heath Tessmann will captain the Perth Spirit in their Grand Final rematch against Brisbane City at Ballymore on Thursday night, in the opening match of the 2015 Buildcorp National Rugby Championship season.
In his first match at the helm, Spirit head coach Tai McIssac has selected a blend of players with Western Force experience and exciting youth from the local Pindan Premier Grade.
The 23-man squad includes seven players from the Pindan Premier Grade, with 12 players returning to the Spirit after pulling on the black and gold jersey in 2014.
McIsaac says his side is looking forward to kicking off its season.
“There’s a real excitement within the squad about playing our first match together,” he said. “We’ve had a good build-up and those that took part in the competition last season are looking forward to returning to Ballymore.
“We’ve chosen a number of excellent young players who have earned their opportunity through their performances with their local clubs or with the Force, and we’re obviously keen to provide that opportunity to other players within the squad as the season progresses.
“Likewise, we have a number of Force players – led by Heath – that will help steer the side, and this is a great opportunity for them to take greater leadership and responsibility.
“Last year we unearthed players like Ross Haylett-Petty and Ammon Matuauto, who went to be a part of the Force squad, and we’re looking forward to providing that opportunity to more players in 2015.”
Tessmann will pack down in an all-Force front row, alongside Chris Heiberg and local product Oliver Hoskins.
Rory Walton and Ross Haylett-Petty both return for their second season with the Spirit, as will Wests Scarborough openside flanker Kane Koteka, who used last year’s tournament to springboard his rise into Asteron Life Super Rugby.
No.8 Angus Cottrell and blindside flanker Chris Alcock will make their Perth Spirit debuts after Cottrell missed last year’s tournament through injury, while Alcock joins the Spirit after representing the Greater Sydney Rams in 2014.
In the halves, Ian Prior partners with Luke Burton, while Joondalup’s Maalonga Konelio receives the first start at inside centre following a standout season for the Brothers in the Pindan Premier Grade, while Associates outside centre Matuauto will look to continue his form from last year’s season that saw him elevated into the Western Force’s Wider Training Squad.
In the back three, Fijian Sevens representative Sevuloni Mocenacagi will look to show his blistering pace on one wing while the Wests Scarborough combination of Brad Lacey and Albert Nikoro will start on the left wing and fullback respectively.
On the bench, UWA hooker Harry Scoble will provide front-row coverage along with 20-year-old Nedlands front-rower Jermaine Ainsley and UWA’s Francois van Wyk, who makes his rugby return from a pectoral injury.
Wests Scarborough’s Riley Winter, who represented the Australian Under 20’s at the Junior World Championship earlier this year, and UWA flanker Richard Hardwick round out the forward reserves.
Ryan Louwrens is set to make his Buildcorp NRC debut while Kalamunda utility back Daley Harper returns for his second season with the Spirit. Wanneroo playmaker Byron Hutchinson is also set to earn his first cap for the Perth side.
The match will be broadcast LIVE on Fox Sports 2 and 2HD.
2015 Buildcorp National Rugby Championship – Week One
Perth Spirit v Brisbane City
Ballymore Stadium, Brisbane
Thursday, 20 August 2015
Kick-off: 7.30pm (local)/5.30pm (AWST)
1. Chris Heiberg Perth Bayswater
2. Heath Tessman (c) Nedlands
3. Oliver Hoskins Cottesloe
4. Rory Walton Wests Scarborough
5. Ross Haylett-Petty Cottesloe
6. Chris Alcock UWA
7. Kane Koteka Wests Scarborough
8. Angus Cottrell Associates
9. Ian Prior Nedlands
10. Luke Burton UWA
11. Brad Lacey Wests Scarborough
12. Maalonga Konelio Joondalup
13. Ammon Matuauto Associates
14. Sevuloni Mocenacagi
15. Albert Nikoro Wests Scarborough
16. Harry Scoble UWA
17. Francois van Wyk UWA
18. Jermaine Ainsley Nedlands
19. Riley Winter Wests Scarborough
20. Richard Hardwick UWA
21. Ryan Louwrens Cottesloe
22. Byron Hutchinson Wanneroo
23. Daley Harper Kalamunda
Season Tickets for the 2015 Perth Spirit season are on sale now! Click here to get tickets to all four home games for the price of three: http://bit.ly/1L3dBQL