For the fans it’s the ultimate grudge match, but Western Force players will do their best to keep emotions in check when they take on the Melbourne Rebels at Leichhardt Oval on Friday night.

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Scores of Force fans are still filthy that their beloved franchise was axed from Super Rugby at the end of 2017 instead of the Rebels.

That decision was made despite billionaire mining magnate Andrew Forrest offering a package worth about $70 million to Rugby Australia to keep the Force in the competition.

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The Force spent two years in the Global Rapid Rugby wilderness after Forrest’s deal was rejected, but they are now in Super Rugby ranks following the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Perth-based franchise are 0-3 in the new Australian competition, and were handed a reality check in last week’s 24-0 loss to the Brumbies.

Veteran prop Pek Cowan, skipper Ian Prior, flyhalf Jono Lance, and Marcel Brache are among the current players who experienced the Force axing in 2017.

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Former All Blacks lock Jeremy Thrush said the player group wouldn’t let their emotions get the better of them.

“We’ve touched on it a little bit,” Thrush said.

“It is there and we all know the history behind all that, but we need to focus on what we need to do right, and get our mindset right.

There’s always emotion … there will be that there. But if we let that control us, we’ll probably make a fair few errors and let ourselves down.”

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The Force have named their strongest squad of the season to date, with World Cup-winning All Black Richard Kahui and former Wallaby Godwin named as the new centre pairing.

“You’re after cool heads in big games and this is a big game for us,” Force coach Tim Sampson said.

“Through our backs, you go Nick Frisby, Lance, Kahui, Godwin, Brache on the wing – there’s great experience there.”

Foundation Force squad member Cowan has been named on the bench after serving his quarantine period and getting up to speed with the squad.

“He’s raring to go. He’s like a 20-year-old debutant,” Sampson said.

The Rebels have recalled Wallabies No.8 Isi Naisarani, but former Force star Dane Haylett-Petty has been ruled out for at least five weeks with a knee injury.

The Rebels have posted a win, a draw, and a loss from their three games.

– Justin Chadwick

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