Valley face tough opening task against Kowloon
Asahi Valley and CBRE Club will start as favourites today when the opening round of the Grand Championship gets underway. While Zurich Major League champions DeA Tigers take a well-earned rest, receiving a bye as reward for finishing top of the First Division standings, their main two rivals for the season's top prize will be slugging it out.
Valley have the tougher task, meeting Descartes Kowloon at Happy Valley while Club come up against Synovate Aberdeen on their home turf. Kowloon, upbeat after last week's heroics in beating DeA Tigers, will hope to continue that form.
'We will try and carry on the momentum. It is not going to be easy. We have not beaten Valley in years and we will have to play well if we are going to achieve that goal,' Kowloon player-coach Rob Turuwhenua said.
Kowloon will field the same team that started against DeA Tigers. Once again the forwards will carry their expectations but if the backs play the way they did last week, Kowloon's hope of pulling off an upset is good.
A lot will depend on centres Dean McLachlin and Mike Lacey. Both had exemplary performances against DeA and coach Turuwhenua is hoping that was no flash in the pan exercise. 'The backs stood up well last week. They shut space in midfield and did not allow DeA's dangerous backs any room to gain momentum or counterattack us. We will have to play the same way against Valley,' said Turuwhenua.
With a back three comprising Matt Dowling, Evan Belford and Simon Hague, Valley are dangerous. Andrew Wong Kee and Jason Going in midfield will create more headaches. Up front the riches are abundant. Stu Denton leads one of the most mobile packs in Hong Kong which will see the return of No.8 Semi Iafeta who missed last week's game against Club. Kowloon will have to slow the game down to their pace if they are to stand any chance of winning.
'They were due for a good win and they got it last week. They showed what they can do,' warned Valley captain Denton. 'It is an important game for us as we hope to build a platform for the next couple of games.'
Both Valley and Kowloon will still be in the running even if they lose today. For the loser will play DeA Tigers in one semi-final next Saturday. But for the losers of the other game between Club and Aberdeen, it will be sayonara to the season.
'We just have to believe in ourselves,' said Aberdeen chairman Rob Perren. But sometimes just believing is not enough. You have to go out there and do it. A tough ask against a Club outfit, who even missing forwards Vatche Mundigian and Tim O'Connor (out for the rest of the season with a broken bone), and back Chris Gordon, will still be strong.
Mundigian, who is recovering from a calf injury, is expected to be fit in time for next week's semi-finals. But first comes the Aberdeen test. 'We can never under-estimate Aberdeen,' cautioned Club skipper Tom Cameron. But it is hard to see the former Grand champions stopping Club today.