A new kind of player power in the West

Super Rugby
Beth Newman Profile
by Beth Newman

There’s a player power movement at the Force but it’s not as you know it.

It is the product of galvanisation, not division, a term opponents and those inside have used often to describe this WA team, which still awaits its future.

A $1.5million-a-year sponsorship deal with the WA Road Safety Commission and a fan-based ownership drive has been taken on by the players as much as any suit.

Vice-captain Dane Haylett-Petty said last week it would be ‘crazy’ to get rid of the Force, with a SANZAAR decision on Super Rugby’s future looming, while players have not hidden the feeling that they’re playing for their lives.

Across their social media accounts, players have been vocal in their support for a franchise that has helped some of its journey men become Wallabies in recent times.

But they’re putting their actions to their tweets, taking an initiative coach Dave Wessels says he hasn’t seen before.

“We had a couple of players going up to the commercial department, asking about how they could support it and creative ideas about how to get behind the road safety (campaign) and the guys in the commercial department said that's just never happened before,” Wessels said.

“We're pretty enthusiastic about the cause and I think we're going to make a very real difference to Western Australia, which is ultimately what we want to try and do.”

Their actions are reflective of a recognition that they must prove their value to Australian rugby, but something that Wessels says also fits in with the cultural melting pot of Perth.

Dave Wessels is confident Coleman will stay in Perth. Photo; RUGBY.com.au/Stuart Walmsley“You do sometimes get the distinct (sense) that you're the ugly brother, ugly duckling and I think that galvanises us a little bit but that's probably true of all West Australians, not just the rugby team,” he said.

“I am very lucky that we've just got a fantastic bunch of guys. They're very mature, good guys.

“From that perspective, I want to do the best by them and it motivates me to work as hard as I can.”

Wessels, the youngest Super Rugby coach, lives by the philosophy that you ‘need to know what you don’t know’, surrounding himself with experienced coaches and letting the players drive club culture, not creating his own cult of personality.

“I guess I probably think of leadership - the key to me about leadership is you create a fantastic vibe but you are never the vibe yourself,” he said.

“You want, if you are not there one day, for the players to be able to perform exactly like they were if you were around.

“That takes time, but you don't ever want to be the centre of attention and I think you've got to allow that space for the players.”

“That's how I view leadership, which is probably different to some other coaches and it's not necessarily the right way but it's just probably more what my personality is like, I guess.”

It’s an easy task to allow players to set the tone with players such as former skipper Matt Hodgson driving the side’s mentality.

“Hodgo is the Western Force. His whole attitude is just brilliant - the way he looks after his body and different things to be able to do what he does at his age,” he said.

Heath Tessman led the Force in round one. Photo: RUGBY.com.au/Stuart WalmsleyAround him Hodgson has community-minded hooker Tatafu Polota-Nau and co-captains Heath Tessman and Ben McCalman, but the maturity Wessels speaks of comes out of others as much as anyone in formal positions.

“You think of a guy like Luke Morahan. I guess if we wanted to make a big leadership group, we'd almost have the whole team in there but 'Mozz'  leads without a title and those (guys) are the best kind of guys.”

“He thinks about the game, he's a very intelligent guy.

“‘Mozz’ is just a fantastic guy and a very mature head on his shoulders, like doesn't easily get rattled but is also very smart, so he understands the game and thinks pretty deeply about the game.

“He doesn't talk when he's not needed to, so when he talks the guys listen, which is a really nice personality trait.”

The Force are looking to win their first home game since 2015 this Thursday night, almost a year to the day after their corresponding fixture against the Reds, one they took 22-6, a result that ended the tenure of Queensland coach Richard Graham.

This weekend could be just as critical for the Force, a chance for their players to prove to home fans that they are the galvanised team they say they are.