The Western Force have chosen two RugbyWA Senior Academy players in their side set to take on Tonga this Saturday the 24th of August.
Wanneroo Rugby Club's Grason Makara will run on at outside centre for the men in blue as well as Palmyra's Jackson Pugh who will start on the bench likely to run on to play at the side on the scrum.
The team will also unveil a new captain as well as five potential debutants on Saturday as the West Australian’s test themselves against a tough Tongan outfit intent on putting the final polish on their World Cup preparations.
The last time a full-strength Tongan team played on home soil was two years ago during the 2017 South Pacific Championships.
Saturday’s match will be the final time local supporters will see their side in Tonga before they head to Japan and Force Head Coach Tim Sampson said he expected the ‘Ikale Tahi will be hungry for a victory.
“It has been some time since they have played at home so they will certainly enjoy playing in front of their passionate supporters,” Sampson said.
“They are a well-balanced team and being only a month out from the World Cup they will no doubt be wanting to put in a performance that they will be proud of,” Sampson added. With regular Force skipper Ian Prior coming off the bench, Andrew Deegan will captain the team for the first time.
“Andrew is one of our key game managers, the players are used to hearing his voice so I am sure he will handle the captaincy well. He is an intelligent player and has been instrumental in our performances so far this year,” Sampson said.
First-year recruit Ben Grant will run on for the first time in the starting XV in a reflection of his hard work and progress made throughout the year. “Ben has been training really well and I am sure he is excited to get a start against a National Team in the ‘Ikale Tahi,” Sampson said.
With Rodney Iona opting to play for Melbourne Rising in the NRC, Wanneroo Rugby Club’s star centre, Grason Makara, received a call-up having been on the radar of Force coaching staff for some time. “Grason has had a great year at Wanneroo and has thrived in the RugbyWA Senior Academy.
He has been with us in a training capacity over the last few months and I look forward to seeing his performance against Tonga,” Sampson said. After making an impact off the bench against Malaysia Valke in his first game for the Force a fortnight ago, Tongan national Haluafa Lavaka will start in the number 14 jersey in front of family and friends.
“This is an important game for ‘Big H’ with it being in his home-land. He has been training really well with us and is looking forward to the opportunity to start in this game,” Sampson said.
The Force will also see two fresh faces in Kitione Ratu and Byron Ralston, who will both be looking to impress and push for selection coming off the bench.
“Kiti in recent years has played for the Fiji Warriors as well as the Melbourne Rebels and Rising. He is a very skilful player and is naturally gifted. Bryon, like Kiti, has a lot of potential.
He’s young and was impressive in the Queensland Premier competition as the leading try scorer,” Sampson said. “It’s a great opportunity for the younger players to play a game like this against a quality national team.”
Changes to the team that played against Malaysia Valke in the final match of the Global Rapid Rugby Showcase Series on Friday 9 August are;
In: Andrew Ready, Grason Makara, Johan Bardoul, Chris Alcock, Kitione Ratu, Bryon Ralston, Markus Vanzati.
Out: Feleti Kaitu’u, Jeremy Thrush, Rod Davies, Rodney Iona, Chris Miller, Leon Feke, Ollie Callan.
Western Force team to take on Tonga