HKRU Premiership 2016-17

Captain Phil Whitfield lauds winning culture as Kowloon hunt Hong Kong Premiership fairy tale

The club is looking to end their 40th anniversary season on a high with victory in Saturday’s grand championship decider against Valley

PUBLISHED : Friday, 10 March, 2017, 12:39pm
UPDATED : Friday, 10 March, 2017, 10:10pm

Kowloon started their season determined to fast track a rebuild that would leave the club in good stead for years to come and could well end it with a grand championship.

They take on Societe Generale Valley in the Hong Kong Premiership decider on Saturday and captain Phil Whitfield is confident the club’s 40th anniversary season could end on the highest of highs.

“We know they’ve been there and done it and it’s going to be a hell of a challenge,” Whitfield said.

“But we’ve got every chance come Saturday, it should be a great game.”

It was back in September as Kowloon’s anniversary celebrations were getting underway that chairman Jason Conlin said the club were in the middle of a sustainable rebuild “with much more depth to it”.

After a few lean years, Conlin identified the anniversary season as the short window “where it starts for us to take on the Football Clubs, Valleys and Cricket Clubs and start breaking their stranglehold”.

His words have rung true maybe even quicker than he had thought possible, but after winning just three minor round games in 2015-16, Kowloon are playing in their first grand final since 2013 and chasing their first grand championship since 1997.

Former Super Rugby forward Martin Muller enjoying rugby at its purest as Valley advance in Hong Kong Premiership

Whitfield for one isn’t surprised by the club’s progress, identifying a period towards the end of last season when things started to change, with a quarter-final victory over Natixis HKFC evidence of this.

“The last quarter, last third of last season we started to come good and we were putting the performances in but not getting the results,” he said.

“This year we have definitely kicked on and I think the culture within the club now is very much positive and it’s a winning culture.”

After winning 10 of 15 minor round games to finish in second place, that culture was on show last weekend as Kowloon dug deep to overcome Borrelli Walsh USRC Tigers in a tense semi-final.

40 years of fun: Kowloon Rugby Club prepares for a huge anniversary season

Whitfield feels the structures are now in place to ensure player retention and, as a result, continued success at the club and credits a shift in focus for the team’s success.

“This year we have definitely had a larger focus on ourselves and our own performance,” he said.

“Going into every week we are looking specifically at our game plan, our structure, what we can do within that to make it better every week.

“Also just the energy we are bringing in, the intensity within training and we are transferring that on to the pitch.”

A whole new world: former England international Olly Barkley joins Kowloon coaching staff for start of Hong Kong Premiership campaign

Kowloon has had the wood over Valley this season, winning two of their three encounters, and could be boosted by the inclusion of former England back Olly Barkley.

Barkley recently returned to Hong Kong after a stint in the, UK but helped coach James Scaysbrook from the sideline last week.

“He’s fit and available so we’ll make a read on that at the back end of the week and make a decision,” Scaysbrook said.

Valley are chasing a remarkable fifth consecutive grand championship and welcome back prop Grant Kemp and winger Ryan Meacheam to the side that saw off HKFC last weekend.

Kowloon fly half Jack Neville soaks up lessons from former England player Olly Barkley

“It’s going to be a very, very tough battle,” Valley coach Andrew Kelly said. “They’ve beaten us twice this season so we’re going to have to work pretty hard to get the win.”

Valley take on CPM Gai Wu Falcons in the KPMG Women’s Premiership final and are looking to continue an incredible run of 41 consecutive victories and claim the league-grand championship double.