Force's class of 2021 writing chapter on their own terms

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On the precipice of Western Force history, the team of 2021 are determined to write their own chapter in the club's unique history book after years of heartbreak in the west.

Facing the Queensland Reds in a must-win clash on Friday to seal their first ever Super Rugby finals appearance, the importance of this match hasn't been lost on any of the players, even the newest recruits.

Ringing in the changes following their winless 2020 season, the Force have made sure their latest recruits understand the club's journey and the "why" of their side, according to captain Ian Prior.

"They've certainly bought into the story and the journey we've been on as a club, we made sure that it was important when any player joined us over the last four years," Prior told ESPN. "It's been a unique club history in terms of Australian sport and it's been pretty publicly known and stated.

"Anyone that's come in, they understand our history, but we've got a chance to get it right now and make sure we write this chapter of the Force's book on our own terms and make sure we leave the jersey in a better place than when we found it.

"The new players that we've got are quality humans and quality players, they've bought into it straight away. You can see footage of Rob Kearney after our first win against the Waratahs over in Sydney how pumped he was; all those guys who've only been here for a short time, but have just as much passion for a win and playing in that jersey as guys like myself, Brynard Stander or Kieran Longbottom."

Choosing to remain in Perth following the Force's axing from Super Rugby in 2017, Prior has been at the heart of his side's rebuild; through the triumphs of the National Rugby Championship, the launch of Global Rapid Rugby and their eventual return to Super Rugby AU in 2020. But this week's match and the finals implications vindicates his decision to remain in the west.

"Absolutely it vindicates my decision," Prior said. "That moment running out for that first home game in Super Rugby against the Brumbies after four years, when I think about it now I still get goose bumps, hearing the roar as we were running out of the tunnel, it was similar on the weekend.

"We've been on this journey as a group and a state over the last four years. Like many of the players who stuck around and bought into this journey and started the rebuild, we've had opportunities to go elsewhere.

"For me personally it was probably better for me and my rugby development to go elsewhere and play in a more developed competition, but I wanted to serve something greater than my own career and the opportunity to rebuild a club was pretty exciting. I'm very proud of the people I've worked with and the small part I've played in helping get this club to where it is now."

The journey back into the Australian rugby fold has been long and hard for the Force. Sent into the rugby wilderness in 2017, they were eventually thrown into the deep end in 2020, with the young side from the west losing all eight games -- all of which were on the road due to COVID-19 restrictions -- but the results column didn't show just how close they were to their Australian competition.

They led the Waratahs and Reds by 14 points, lost to the Melbourne Rebels in Super Time from 20-all and made their opposition work for long periods of time, with youth, determination and grit keeping them in touch with their rivals - they were in no way easy beats.

It was their lack of experience and conditioning at the top level that would prove too hard to overcome though, but with savvy recruitment and a smart game plan by coach Tim Sampson, those same issues have been a put in the past.

Recruiting international talent like Rob Kearney, Tomas Cubelli and Richard Kahui alongside capped Wallabies Tevita Kuridrani and Tom Robertson, and mixing them alongside Force Stalwarts Prior, Stander and Longbottom with the youth of Jack McGregor and Fergus Lee-Warner, the Force seem to have the balance right in 2021 and beyond.

"We have found our balance," Prior told ESPN. "We've obviously got those guys that complement the core group that we've kept together for the last couple of years; guys like Jake McGregor, Fergus Lee-Warner, and Jake Strachan who played last week and was sensational off the bench.

"There's quite a few guys I could go through, but obviously having guys like Richard [Kahui] and Rob [Kearney] to learn off is only going to set those guys up for the rest of their career.

"I think as a group we've just found a way we want to play and have implemented that really well. The last couple of years we were trying to find out what works for Global Rapid Rugby and then we were straight back into Super, it probably took a few games to work out what would work for us, but we worked hard in the off-season and tinkered things that we wanted to in our game. Now we're sort of finding our feet really well there I think."

Already looking to the future, the Force made a shrewd signing in Wallabies lock Izack Rodda just a year after he walked away from the Reds because of a pay dispute. His signing, alongside Sitaleki Timani and Jake McIntyre shows where this organisation is heading and is in sharp contrast to what they were looking at just years ago.

"This year there's been a lot of interest from players wanting to come back to the Force, which is interesting. A couple of years ago when we were just doing Global Rapid Rugby it wasn't as competitive trying to recruit players, so it's certainly 'done a 180' there.

"We're just trying to build the best program we can over here in the west and make sure there's a clear pathway from grassroots all the way to professional rugby and I'm sure people want to be a part of it, which is pretty clear with the people we've signed who want to come back. Jake McIntyre, Sitaleki Timani and Izack Rodda, are just a few and I'm sure there's more who are looking to come back."

With everything on the line this Friday, the Force have the chance to add some much-needed good to their history book.