Emerging Western Force lock Sam Wykes continues to take significant forward strides in his development and has been handed the captaincy for the team's two-match tour against the Samoan Test team later this month.
Wykes enjoyed a breakout year in Super Rugby where he became a permanent fixture next to Nathan Sharpe in the second row and both his work at the line-out and around the ground came on in leaps and bounds.
With Sharpe, the team's long serving skipper, and vice-captain David Pocock on Wallabies duties, Wykes has, off his own back, taken on added responsibility during preparations at the WA Rugby Centre ahead of matches in Samoa on August 20 and 27.
"Sam deserves the opportunity to captain the Western Force on this tour," said head coach Richard Graham.
"His discipline, work ethic and desire to improve reflect everything you want to see in a good leader and he has gained a lot of respect amongst the group."
Wykes will lead a young group of players heading to the passionate South Pacific rugby nation.
The Western Force will be without the services of their Wallabies representatives as well as experienced campaigners Brett Sheehan, Gene Fairbanks and Cameron Shepherd who have been ruled out through injury.
Graham has drafted seven trial players into his 26 man squad who will be auditioning for the few remaining places in the Western Force Super Rugby programme next season.
The carefully selected group includes players from first division teams in Queensland, NSW and also Western Australia with Nedlands loose forward Will Brock earning his chance to impress.
"We've added to our contracted group a selection of players eager to show what they can offer and we couldn't get a better environment in which to test these guys," Graham said.
"From a recruitment point of view I'll have the opportunity to see the trial players under intensive conditions throughout our 12 days away whereas previously I'd be relying in part on other people's assessments.
"In terms of the overall squad, going on a tour that doesn't include our Wallabies and some of our more experienced players will drive the group to grow as leaders and also develop as footballers. It's a wonderful opportunity for them to get that experience."
After coming together at the start of the month the West Australian's have prepared well and are set for their departure on Wednesday, August 17. It'll be a long travel day of close to 19 hours and not much easier for the Western Force once they land having only three days to acclimatise before coming up against the impressive Samoan Test team in game one of the tour.
Manu Samoa created plenty of headlines last month when they disposed of the Wallabies in stunning fashion in Sydney to kick start their test season and will use the matches against the Western Force to fine tune their World Cup preparations.
"We are under no illusions about the need for us to be spot on with our planning because we'll need to adapt very quickly and be on our game against a very good rugby side," Graham said.
"They're just about to enter the number one tournament in the world and no doubt will be at peak physical condition. In beating the Wallabies it just proved that they're at the top of their game at the moment."
While there are clear objectives for both sides Graham is confident the tour will be the start of a strong relationship both on and off the field between the Western Force and Samoa Rugby Union.
"We're really grateful that the Samoa Rugby Union offered this opportunity to us," Graham said.
"We're determined to make the most of the chance to visit a rugby heartland in the South Pacific and a country renowned for their sporting prowess as well as their wonderful hospitality.
"For both sides there is plenty to gain from the tour and we are looking forward to helping the Samoan Test team put the final pieces of their preparations together ahead of the World Cup."
Western Force squad: Cruze Ah-Nau, Paul Alo-Emile, Phoenix Battye, Nathan Charles, Nick Cummins, Patrick Dellit, Kyle Godwin, Tom Hockings, Kieran Longbottom, Alfie Mafi, Tevita Metuisela, Jordan Rapana, Rory Sidey, James Stannard, Justin Turner, Ted Postal, Willie Ripia, Ben Whittaker, Sam Wykes (captain).
Trial Players: Tim Bennetts, Will Brock, Angus Cottrell, Dominic Fuller, Jay Havelu, Ruan Smith, Sam Wara.
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