Future bright yet unclear for Force

NRC
AAP
by AAP

First it was World Series Rugby. Now, the National Rugby Championship. Then ... who knows?

The future seems bright enough for the reborn Western Force, but exactly what that future looks like and where it fits in the Australian rugby ecosystem is yet to be resolved.

The Force are preparing for their return to full-blown domestic rugby in this year's NRC, having replaced the Perth Spirit in the fledgling eight-team competition.

It comes after they were axed from Super Rugby at the end of last season, then revived by mining billionaire Andrew 'Twiggy' Forrest and thrust into a hastily-arranged series of seven exhibition matches against teams from across the Asia-Pacific.

Largely the same squad will participate in the NRC.Force fans have turned out in droves in 2018. Photo: Getty ImagesThey should not only be among the favourites to win it all, but also one of the best-supported teams, having attracted an average crowd of just under 15,000 in WSR to prove there is still a ravenous appetite for the Force in Perth.

"We're playing for competition points now," skipper Ian Prior said.

"We're really looking forward to getting stuck in and then testing ourselves against everyone on the east coast."

What happens next, perhaps only Forrest knows.

The 2019 WSR calendar has not been confirmed, although early suggestions are that it will expand to include teams from western Sydney, New Zealand and Japan and offer a $1-million purse.Discussions are ongoing with Andrew Forrest as to the future of World Series Rugby. Photo: Getty Images"We're pretty excited as a playing group to see where it goes," Prior said.

"We don't actually know much more than you guys do - the commercial staff are working pretty hard upstairs and they keep that behind closed doors."

Rugby Australia CEO Raelene Castle said the governing body remained in "very deep conversations" with Forrest about WSR's future.

Castle is also involved in parallel discussions with the other SANZAAR nations as to how Super Rugby will be revamped from 2020 onwards.

Whether there will be any form of overlap or merger of the two competitions remains to be seen.

Castle said Rugby Australia wasn't ready to talk publicly about Super Rugby restructure plans, while she claimed the organisation was trying to find a place for WSR that "works for everyone."

"You can't look at it as a separate conversation, they're all kinked together ... it's part of the mix and the discussions we'll be having with Andrew Forrest," she said.

NZ Rugby CEO Steve Tew said on Monday the SANZAAR board hoped to sign off on the plans when it meets in London in November.

"At the moment our goal is to determine the final structure and make-up of Super Rugby in November... that's the timetable we're working to," he told reporters.

"I've said it before and been wrong but that's what we're hoping for."

Tew was tight-lipped about the options being considered, saying debate was ongoing between SANZAAR's four member nations -- South Africa, New Zealand, Australia and Argentina.

"We've got four countries that all have different imperatives and positions and it's not helpful to have that conversation in the public domain," he said.

The NRC kicks off on Saturday September 1, with the Melbourne Rising taking on the Fiji Drua at 3pm AEST, LIVE STREAMED on foxsports.com.au.