Rugby Union Players Association [RUPA] boss Ross Xenos has foreshadowed the possibility of the Western Force returning to a revamped Super Rugby competition in 2021.
Rugby Australia axed the Force for financial reasons last September as Super Rugby reverted to a 15-team competition following an unsuccessful experiment with an 18-team format. But there is uncertainty about whether the SANZAAR joint partnership between South Africa, New Zealand, Australia and Argentina will continue following the expiry of the current broadcast agreement in 2020.
Even if the SANZAAR partnership continues, the structure of the Super Rugby competition beyond 2020 could be very different.
With new Rugby Australia chief executive Raelene Castle visiting Western Australia this week to discuss the future of rugby in the state, Xenos believes it is important to keep the door open for the return of the Force or another professional rugby team from the west.
"I'm very optimistic about the re-integration of a professional West Australian team into whatever elite professional rugby competition Australian rugby participates in," Xenos said. "The uncertainty over the Super Rugby model beyond 2020 means we can't afford to narrow our focus or to take any options off the table.
"One of the models that has been speculated for 2021 is: could Australian rugby pursue a domestic competition where we have no matches with South African or New Zealand teams as part of the regular season?
Xenos said West Australian mining magnate Andrew Forrest's proposed Indo Pacific Rugby Championship, expected to kick off in March next year, could help to provide an alternative competition model for Super Rugby.
"(The IPRC) is a great opportunity for Australian rugby to be involved in professional rugby competitions beyond our involvement in Super Rugby, which has the potential to create an array of strategic opportunities for the game at the expiry of the current broadcast deal at the end of 2020," Xenos said.
"Playing more games in our time-zone and against teams which our fan base has tribalism with is an important part of any future decision-making.
"The opportunity to explore new teams into the Pacific Islands and into Asia as the Indo Pacific Rugby Championship is cultivating presents great opportunity for Australia to have other alternatives for 2021, which might involve playing New Zealand and South African teams less in order to deliver more engaging local content, which is what we need to ensure our rugby economy can thrive moving forward."