Force to field team in third-tier competition
Kyle Godwin. Pic: Getty Images

Western Force will have a development side in a new Australian Rugby Union third-tier competition next season.

The squad will double as a defacto Force academy and play eight games against similar sides from the four other Australian Super Rugby clubs.

The home-and-away competition will be held early in the Super Rugby season and give Force coaches an opportunity to assess local and interstate talent.

There has been a need to bridge the gap between club and Super rugby since the Australian Rugby Championship was scrapped by former ARU chief executive John O'Neill in 2007 after one season.

The Force also lost its academy in 2011 when O'Neill cut $200,000 funding in favour of centralised centres in Sydney and Brisbane.

The third tier is particularly important to the Force as the RugbyWA club competition is not as strong as those in NSW and Queensland.

Just a handful of local players have made a successful move into Super Rugby and only a few more look set to take the step.

Rockingham prop Kieran Longbottom and centre Kyle Godwin, from the Associates club, are in the Force squad.

Backs Zack Holmes and Dane Haylett-Petty return to WA next season.

Both were products of the defunct Force academy, but Holmes was picked up by the Brumbies without making the Super squad and Haylett-Petty went to French club Biarritz in 2010 after nine appearances.

Three other local products, backs Luke Burton and Brad Lacey along with prop Oliver Hoskins, are in the Australian under-20 squad at the Junior World Championship.

The ARU is under financial pressure, but chief executive Bill Pulver has committed to a new development competition.

Sydney and Brisbane rugby officials are angry because the ARU is stripping the $40,000 it gives each of their clubs to help fund the new $3 million competition. The same hierarchy will try to insist that players in the Force development team return to their Eastern States clubs when the competition is over.

- The Force confirmed the signing of South African second-rower and former emerging Springbok Wilhelm Steenkamp for the next three seasons.

Steenkamp, 28, played for the Bulls, Sharks and Cheetahs.

Force coach Michael Foley said Steenkamp would be a strong addition to the pack.

The West Australian

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