Dave Wessels could be the ultimate sticking point in the 2018 Super Rugby shakedown, as players slowly begin to declare their intentions for next season.
The Force coach is believed to be in talks with Irish powerhouse Munster, with departing coach Rassie Erasmus praising Wessels, who he worked with at the Stormers in South Africa.
Erasmus endorsed Wessels, speaking to Irish media overnight, as 'one of the good options’ for the job.
“I don't know how far along the line it is,” he said.
“His name was in the mix in July and there are a few names I saw, so I think he is one of a few good candidates.
“I'm not sure how close they are really to finalising that, but he is one of the good options.”
Initially it seemed Wessels would be a straightforward fit for the Rebels after Rugby WA's Supreme Court appeal was dismissed.
The involvement of Andrew Forrest in the potential launch of a new Indo Pacific Rugby Championship (IPRC) to overlap with the NRC, raised the suggestion that he could potentially split his time between WA and the Rebels, with Wessels loyal to the West Australian cause.
Many of the Force’s stars have had the Rebels in their sights as well, but a lot of their moves hinge on whether Wessels will be there, a huge endorsement of the influence he has had on the group this season.
Forrest's competition adds another layer of indecision for some of the Perth franchise's fringe players who are contracted beyond this season, who have the option to move away without knowing their playing chances at an opposition club or stay in Perth in the hope the IPRC is successful.
The shape of the 2018 salary cap and squad sizes is yet to be decided and the longer-term future is also unclear, with a deci
How the landscape looks beyond that too is not known, when it comes to player payment, with the Rugby Union Players' Association and the ARU yet to begin conversations about a new collective bargaining agreement, though that is expected to happen in the next fortnight.
The current deal runs out on December 31 and though it is guaranteed a fresh deal will be signed off by then, in a stark contrast to much of Australian rugby in 2017, it is expected those negotiations will be completed as quickly as possible, with neither side keen for another drawn out battle.
So what’s the state of play for the Force’s main players?
Coleman has kept his cards close to his chest when it comes to his next destination, but there’s no doubt he’s in demand. The Rebels have seemed his most likely destination in recent months but whether the Melbourne club can fit the Force’s top players in, having already snared Wallabies halfback Will Genia remains to be seen. The Wallabies lock would be close to Australia’s top priority and is believed to have already signed a deal with the ARU but European clubs are sniffing around. When it comes to retention, Wallabies coach Michael Cheika and the national body will be desperate to ensure he remains in the country.
Haylett-Petty has been strongly linked to the Rebels as the Super Rugby decision has played out and seems all but certain to make the move to Melbourne. The Rebels are in need of a fullback, with Jack Debreczeni’s departure ahead of 2018, while rookie Jonah Placid has moved to France. Haylett-Petty declared last week he was keen to be involved in Andrew Forrest’s Indo Pacific Rugby Championship (IPRC) as well as Super Rugby, but that seems an unlikely event, given the Test window overlaps with Forrest's proposed timeslot.
Lance is another all but locked in for the Rebels. Melbourne would be his fourth Super Rugby club, having already played for the Waratahs and Reds. The Rebels have struggled to find a regular 10 in recent times and Lance would be a good fit. Has strong connections in Melbourne too, with close friend James Hanson already there.
Speaking to RUGBY.com.au in July, Ross Haylett-Petty said he and Dane would be a package deal in whatever the next move would be and the Rebels seem all but certain to take the elder Haylett-Petty.
Daley was the first player to declare his next move after the official notice of RugbyWA’s failed Supreme Court appeal. The 29-year-old has played most of his Super Rugby with Queensland before switching to the Force.
Faulkner, like Daley, has already declared his intention to move to the Rebels. Originally from Melbourne, the 29-year-old opted to take his family home to take up a new deal with the Victorian franchise.
The Waratahs have held off signing a new centre as the Force saga played out and Meakes would be a natural fit. Sydney-born and bred, the former Randwick player would be an obvious choice to head to NSW.
Rona’s decision hinges on whether he would prefer to head back to rugby league, if that’s required in a move to Sydney. The 24-year-old made the move to Perth to be closer to his family, but if NSW is his preference then Test caps are the only real advantage in rugby as opposed to rugby league.
He’s the forgotten man in Australian rugby after an injury-riddled year, but a fit Ben McCalman would be in demand, at both Super Rugby and Wallabies level. The 29-year-old is originally from NSW but has played all his Super Rugby with the Force.
A move to Sydney has already been touted for the former U20s winger who moved himself across the country for a Super Rugby crack.
Queensland isn’t expected to be targeting any big-name Force stars, with a packed roster already and limited funds to splash.
The Brumbies still have some openings when it comes to outside backs.
The Force’s Nathan Sharpe Medal winner is set to join the Brumbies, it was announced on Tuesday. The Fijian, who moved to Perth after starring in the NRC for Brisbane City, will join a backrow stacked with young talent, including Rob Valetini, Ben Hyne, with David Pocock to return in 2018.
Polota-Nau put all his eggs in one basket, with complete faith the Force would be alive in 2018. This has left him in a precarious state at the end of the season, despite being one of Australia’s most important Test players. Was set to join Bristol before a medical issue nixed that deal last year, which is what led him to Perth in the first place.
The only remaining foundation Force player is most likely to end up overseas or in retirement as the wash-up continues from the WA axing. He could be a contender to play in the IPRC, if it gets off the ground, a passionate Perth local now, with his family all based in WA.
Francois van Wyk (Northampton), Luke Morahan (Bristol), Luke Burton (released), Harry Scoble (released), Semisi Masirewa (Japan), and Matt Hodgson (retirement) had already signalled their intention to move on before the decision was handed down.
There are still a number of players on contract, whose next move is unclear, though they could find themselves in the IPRC, if the ARU and Forrest can find a way to make it work or conjoin it to the current NRC.
Dane Haylett-Petty has already expressed an interest in playing both Super Rugby and in this proposed new competition, and RUPA CEO Ross Xenos said after the Supreme Court decision that players were already considering it.
POTENTIAL IPRC CANDIDATES
Anaru Rangi (2018)
Robbie Coleman (2018)
Richard Hardwick (2018)
Heath Tessmann (2018)
Jermaine Ainsley (2018)
Angus Cottrell (2018)
Richie Arnold (2019)
Shambeckler Vui (2019)
Chance Peni (2019)
Michael Ruru (2019)
What about the rest?
Where is your club sitting publicly when it comes to contracts?
2017, yet to be re-signed
Stephen Moore (Retiring at the end of 2018)
2017, yet to be re-signed
Ryan Lonergan (EPS)
Tyrel Lomax - signed with Hurricanes for 2019 and beyond