Western Force coach Tim Sampson expects his team will be in the thick of the action at the “pointy end” of Super Rugby AU, and he doesn’t mind their underdog status.

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The Force are hot favourites to collect the wooden spoon in Australia’s new domestic rugby competition, but optimism within the squad is growing by the day.

The arrival of Greg Holmes, Pek Cowan, Kyle Godwin, Jono Lance, and Nick Frisby has added vital experience and class to the youthful squad.

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The Force’s campaign begins on Saturday against the NSW Waratahs at the SCG.

Sampson admits it’s hard to predict how his team will perform on Saturday after such a lengthy break between games, but he’s confident of what they will be able to produce across the season.

“Our expectations are we’re going to perform in this competition and be there at the pointy end of the competition,” Sampson said.

“We’ve set ourselves up nicely. I think we’ve been gunning for this for a while, playing against the other Australian Super Rugby clubs, and I think we’ll manage it quite well.

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“We might be tagged as the underdogs – we don’t mind that. It’s fine.”

Sampson has erred on the side of caution by starting former Wallabies Godwin and Holmes on the bench after they only recently got out from quarantine.

Cowan is still in quarantine and may miss next week as well, while Frisby was another player unavailable for selection against the Waratahs.

Former All Blacks lock Jeremy Thrush headlines the Force’s starting line-up, while other familiar faces include Kieran Longbottom, Brynard Stander, Ian Prior, Lance and Marcel Brache.

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The starting line-up also contains plenty of names that will be unfamiliar to most rugby fans in Australia.

Prop Angus Wagner, winger Byron Ralston, flanker Tevin Ferris, inside centre Nick Jooste and fullback Jack McGregor are among the generation next who will be aiming to make a name for themselves on the national stage.

The Waratahs have named an unchanged starting line-up from the team that lost 32-26 to the Queensland Reds last week.

Veteran back Karmichael Hunt has been named on the bench after recovering from injury.

Saturday’s match marks the Force’s first foray back into Super Rugby ranks since they were controversially axed at the end of 2017.

Force: Jack McGregor, Byron Ralston, Marcel Brache, Nick Jooste, Brad Lacey, Jono Lance, Ian Prior (capt), Brynard Stander, Tevin Ferris, Henry Stowers, Fergus Lee-Warner, Jeremy Thrush, Kieran Longbottom, Feleti Kaitu’u, Angus Wagner. Res: Andrew Ready, Chris Heiberg, Greg Holmes, Johan Bardoul, Ollie Callen, Jacob Abel, Henry Taefu, Kyle Godwin.

Waratahs: Jack Maddocks, James Ramm, Alex Newsome, Joey Walton, Mark Nawaqanitawase, Will Harrison, Mitch Short, Will Harris, Michael Hooper, Lachie Swinton, Rob Simmons (capt), Ned Hanigan, Harry Johnson-Holmes, Robbie Abel, Angus Bell. Res: Tom Horton, Tetera Faulkner, Tiaan Tauakipulu, Jack Demspey, Michael McDonald, Ben Donaldson/Tepai Moeroa, Karmichael Hunt.

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