By Ian Ransom
MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Nearly three years after playing their last Super Rugby game, Western Force hope to be the "feel-good story" of Australian rugby when they return to the limelight next week, captain Iain Prior said on Wednesday.
The Perth-based side will join Australia's four Super Rugby teams in a 12-week domestic competition starting on Friday as professional rugby union returns to the country for the first time since March.
Axed from Super Rugby at the end of the 2017 season, Force play their first match of "Super Rugby AU" next week against the New South Wales Waratahs in Sydney after an opening round bye.
"Obviously, amongst the playing group there’s a lot of excitement," Prior said during the tournament's online launch on Wednesday.
"All the players have been working hard, as well as the coaches, to make sure we're right to go.
"It’s a huge moment for this club and organisation after a couple of years (out) … to be back and probably (be) a feel-good story for Australian rugby."
Governing body Rugby Australia culled Force to save costs when Super Rugby contracted to 15 teams from 18 in 2018, angering many in the team's home state of Western Australia.
Force have played on under the patronage of Andrew Forrest, competing in the mining billionaire's Global Rapid Rugby tournament which features modified rules and Asia-Pacific teams.
Force have recruited Super Rugby veterans, including 37-year-old former Wallabies prop Greg Holmes and ex-Queensland utility back Jono Lance.
Holmes returns after four years at Exeter in the English Premiership, while Lance joins up after a move to Scottish side Edinburgh was scrapped because of COVID-19.
Prior said their experience would be a huge boost.
"(Holmes) is raring to go and he’s an absolute professional," he added.
"We’re really excited to see what he can do out there for us."
(Editing by Peter Rutherford)