Samoan loose forward Henry Stowers will achieve a childhood dream this evening when he makes his Super Rugby debut.
The 25 year old will start on the blindside flank for the Western Force against the New South Wales Waratahs in Sydney.
Your very first #SuperRugbyAU Force team is here!— Western Force (@westernforce) July 9, 2020
Don't forget to support the Force by watching the game LIVE on @FOXRUGBY or @kayosports from 5.15pm AWST this Saturday!
The Manu Samoa international has played in the Australian and New Zealand provincial competitions and represented the Force in Global Rapid Rugby, but says there's something special about Super Rugby.
"I've played in New Zealand at age grade and international [level] but it's something different about Super Rugby because this will be my Super Rugby debut," he said.
"[There's] something different, like a different kind of excitement, something like I dreamed about since I was a kid."
It's almost four months since the Western Force opened their Global Rapid Rugby campaign with a resounding 51-14 victory over the Malaysia Valke in Perth, before the competition was brought to a halt because of Covid-19.
Stowers remained in Perth during the nation-wide lockdown but continued to train hard in the hope that rugby would eventually return.
"If I had just clocked off and given up during that stage of not knowing I probably wouldn't be starting, probably wouldn't be ready for this comp... and the team getting round each other, because we had no idea if we were going to play rugby this year, but we all stayed ready. Hopefully it pays off."
The Wellington-born Stowers admitted to being a little homesick in the current climate, with his partner and family back in New Zealand and the prospect of reopening the Trans Tasman border still anyone's guess.
"I just kept the communication lines open with my Mrs and my family," he said.
"I know heaps of people would have been going through tough times but being from the islands and an island family religion is big for us so I sort of just kept my head up and kept my faith really. I didn't know what was going to happen but I believed something was going to happen in the future and it's happened."
The former Wainuiomata club-man's phone was running hot on Thursday when he was named to start against New South Wales at the Sydney Cricket Ground.
The Force had the bye in the opening round of Super Rugby AU and Stowers admits getting itchy feet having to watch the other four teams battle it out last weekend.
"Obviously with all the Covid and stuff going on around the world we stuck together as a team throughout it all and it's just good to finally get out on the pitch and show what we've been doing over the break... so the boys are keen and I'm pretty keen to play some rugby."
The former Samoa and New Zealand Under 20s representative made his test debut for Manu Samoa in August last year, playing against the United States and Fiji in consecutive weekends.
While he missed out on a spot at the World Cup in Japan, Stowers says his six weeks in the national set-up was a huge learning experience.
"Seeing how other players prepped for games - like their attitudes and feeding off them. Seeing what they do for trainings and how they recover and all that, that was pretty awesome, and even boys like Henry Taefu and AJ Alatimu it was just exciting for us three who were here at the Force to be bumped up into the international squad."
The former Wellington and Bay of Plenty loose forward Stowers joined the Western Force in 2018, the year after the Perth-based franchise was unceremoniously kicked out of Super Rugby.
He says it means a lot to everyone involved in the Western Australia rugby community to be given this opportunity.
"For the boys that did stick around, that didn't go over to other teams, I'm happy that the Force are in there but I'm happy for them as well, for the organisation and for those players who stuck around and kept the faith and knowing that we'd have another chance in Super Rugby," he said.
"As much as Global Rapid Rugby has been amazing it's nice for those who haven't played Super Rugby before to finally get a game."
Rivalries Reignite— Western Force (@westernforce) July 9, 2020
Hear about the rebirth of the Force vs. Waratahs Super Rugby rivalry from the players themselves!
“A huge game first up," - Captain Ian Prior.#ForceForever #SuperRugbyAU pic.twitter.com/1mNKhr4hmO