Perth junior Kyle Godwin fears axing the Western Force will have a crippling impact on rugby union, describing the decision as “a kick in the face” for the state’s pathway systems.
Injured Wallaby Godwin was with close mate and Force back-rower Angus Cottrell on Friday when the ARU exiled the Perth-based franchise from Super Rugby on Friday.
The news hit hard for Godwin, who started his career as a teenager in Perth before leaving the Force at the end of last year to link with the ACT Brumbies.
Force players have been left in the dark about their futures, with the ARU saying it will honour existing contracts but not detailing if it will increase squad sizes or salary caps.
More details could emerge on Monday and the Force have told players not to rush decisions on new contracts as the club weighs up an appeal in the NSW Supreme Court.
Godwin, who made his Force debut as a 19-year-old in 2012, hoped the decision would not kill rugby in Western Australia.
“I was very sad and disappointed when I heard the news. The Force have a huge part of my heart, so to see this happen, it was just a sad day,” Godwin said.
“The pathways are established in Perth and the evidence is there to say the system is working in producing professional rugby players.
“The state is passionate about the Force, and the fans are going to be the ones who are hurting the most.
“I am worried it’s going to take a hit, there isn’t the clear pathway there now. It will stagnate the development, it’s really a kick in the face.”
The Force was starting to produce homegrown stars, but the club failed to make the finals in its Super Rugby history and had financial trouble off the field.
Some of their marquee players have already been linked to the Melbourne Rebels, but the Brumbies will be keeping a close eye on contract developments.
The ARU will need to decide if it increases salary cap figures or squad sizes to give Force players a new home for the short-term.
The Brumbies have two full-time backs spots to fill, and Billy Meakes, Curtis Rona, Jono Lance and Chance Peni are attractive recruitment targets.
The Brumbies will be bolstered by the return of superstar flanker David Pocock next year, while Christian Lealiifano is also set for more game time after going into remission.
Lealiifano is expected to sign a short-term deal with Irish club Ulster in the coming days as he searches for a way to get game time to be ready for the 2018 Super Rugby season.
Lealiifano played just 40 minutes of rugby this year after being diagnosed with leukaemia 12 months ago.
But it’s understood the Brumbies have given their blessing for Lealiifano to test himself in Europe before returning to Canberra for pre-season training in January.
Godwin is recovering from a knee injury and restarted training last week in the hope of using the National Rugby Championship as a launching pad for his hopes of joining the Wallabies on a spring tour of Europe.
The Wallabies will start their international season with a Bledisloe Cup clash against New Zealand on Saturday night, with Kurtley Beale set to step back into the inside centre job.
Godwin made his Wallabies debut on the spring tour last year and credits the Force for his rise through the rugby ranks.
“It’s hit everyone pretty hard with this sort of news. The Force have been a home for me and has been for a long time. It always will be in plenty of ways,” Godwin said.
“All the players are mates, so we all feel for them. To hear what they’re going through makes me pretty sad and upset.”