New Melbourne Rebels skipper Nic Stirzaker has failed to overcome a shoulder injury in time for Saturday night’s Super Rugby clash with the Western Force in Perth.
Stirzaker’s absence opens the door for Sean McMahon to take over the captaincy duties in the season opener.
Ben Meehan will start at scrumhalf in the absence of Stirzaker, with winger Reece Hodge named to make his Super Rugby debut.
“We gave Nic every opportunity to prove his fitness and availability for this weekend but, unfortunately, ran out of time,” Rebels coach Tony McGahan said.
“And we’re not willing to risk further injury to his shoulder in the opening round.”
The Force will be without star back-rower Ben McCalman, who is expected to miss the first two rounds following his recent playing stint in Japan.
Jono Lance beat out fellow recruit Peter Grant for first crack at five-eighth for the Force, while former Red Ben Tapuai has been named at outside centre.
The Rebels have included recruits Adam Thomson and James Hanson in their starting line-up.
Force: Dane Haylett-Petty, Luke Morahan, Ben Tapuai, Kyle Godwin, Marcel Brache, Jono Lance, Alby Mathewson, Angus Cottrell, Matt Hodgson (capt), Brynard Stander, Adam Coleman, Steve Mafi, Guy Millar, Nathan Charles, Pek Cowan. Res: Heath Tessmann, Chris Heiberg, Jermaine Ainsley, Ross Haylett-Petty, Chris Alcock, Ian Prior, Peter Grant, Semisi Masirewa.
Rebels: Mike Harris, Dom Shipperley, Tamati Ellison, Mitch Inman, Reece Hodge, Jack Debreczeni, Ben Meehan, Adam Thomson, Sean McMahon (capt), Jordy Reid, Lopeti Timpani, Luke Jones, Laurie Weeks, James Hanson, Toby Smith. Res: Pat Leafa, Cruze Ah Nau, Jamie Hagan, Steve Cummins, Colby Fainga’a, Mick Snowden, Jonah Placid, Tom English.