The Canberra Vikings will be bolstered by the return of Wallabies scrumhalf Joe Powell, but a second-row battle will ignite the opening round of the National Rugby Championship.
Wallabies rookie Izack Rodda is set to square off against the man he replaced in the Test squad, ACT Brumbies captain Sam Carter, when the Vikings play against Queensland Country on Saturday.
Powell, Rodda and Izaia Perese have been released from Wallabies camp and cleared to play in the first game of the NRC season.
Powell has played just 126 minutes of rugby in the past three months after being used sparingly since making his Wallabies debut against Fiji in June.
Rodda made his Test debut against New Zealand last weekend and the big Queensland lock beat Carter for a spot in the Wallabies training squad.
The individual battle will add spice to the clash at Viking Park as Carter fights to prove he deserves a spot in the n squad.
The Brumbies skipper was dropped despite a strong Super Rugby season, with Wallabies coach Michael Cheika opting for Rodda, Rob Simmons, Rory Arnold and Adam Coleman.
Rodda, 21, is tipped as a star of the future and didn’t look out of place when he was thrown on to the field in an intense Bledisloe Cup clash last weekend.
Carter is expected to play the bulk of the NRC season if he isn’t recalled to the Wallabies squad, but the Brumbies will monitor his workload.
Powell will be a massive inclusion for the Vikings and will be keen to use the game to impress Cheika enough to earn his first Rugby Championship cap.
The Vikings will wear an ACT Kookaburras heritage jersey to connect with Canberra’s rugby community, while the junior finals will also be played at Viking Park this weekend.
Meanwhile, the Brumbies have re-signed back-rower Rob Valetini despite the 19-year-old not making his Super Rugby debut this season.
Valetini will use the NRC as his launching pad to Brumbies duties next year after impressing in his n under-20s campaign.
But the teenager will not be eligible to play for the Vikings against Queensland after being ruled out for 19 days following a concussion.
Valetini was given a mandatory 19-day stand-down time because of his age.
The 113 kilogram versatile flanker wants to learn off David Pocock next season and chase his dream of playing for after moving away from his family in Melbourne to link with the Brumbies.
“I am loving life at the Brumbies and I am happy that I have the opportunity to continue to learn my rugby at the club,” Valetini said.
“This last season has been very enjoyable and I have learnt a lot. Moving away from Melbourne was tricky at the start and I had to leave my family behind to chase my rugby dream. But I feel like I have exchanged one family for another.
“The Brumbies is a very close-knit group and they have made me feel very welcome. I have made some good friends during my time at the club and I feel I am improving as a player every day.
“The coaching staff here is first class and we have a great bunch of blokes in the squad and just being around the experienced guys means that I am learning new things and how to be a professional athlete.”
NRC ROUND ONE
Saturday: Canberra Vikings v Queensland Country at Viking Park, 3pm. Tickets available at the gate.