Kowloon cook up recipe to leave their rivals eating humble pie
Pour in a potent shot of Pacific Islanders, mix in some seasoned campaigners, garnish with an exciting youngster then sprinkle with a couple of grizzled old-timers, and you get a heady brew - inProjects Kowloon, the team to watch this season.
New Zealand-based trio Ionatana Tala Fuatai (Iona), Misiluni Maonanu (Lungi) and Villaimu Lafaele (Vili) are the three professionals - the maximum number a club can field - in the Kowloon ranks, who this season have a healthy look about them with more than 30 players available for the First Division. The fact the club won't be fielding a second-string side will help.
The trio will bring pace and power to the side. Iona is a barnstorming No8, while Lungi is a tighthead prop who played a couple of seasons ago for Kowloon. Game-breaking centre Vili will be the dangerman in the backline.
Hong Kong sevens star Jeff Wong will start at scrumhalf and his backline will include captain Ashley Bond, Vili, and stalwarts Dean McLaughlin and Mike Diamond among others.
But the biggest coup for Kowloon comes in the form of a blast from the past - the return of Fred Moe and Steve Pengelly as player-coach and player-manager respectively.
'I don't know about the playing part,' laughed Moe, a winger who played for DeA-Tigers in the 1997-98 season. 'I can't run as quickly as I used to, I can only push now and I have moved from wing to prop,' he added.
When called for, Moe will figure as a loosehead prop and help balance the front row with Lungi. Former Hong Kong international Pengelly will, meanwhile, be asked to front up in the second row. Along with Iona and the return from injury of Mark Goosen, Kowloon will boast an impressive set of forwards.
Much is expected of openside flanker Goosen, who has recovered from a broken leg. 'If Mark can get back to the form he had two seasons ago, I can safely bet he will be a candidate for the player-of-the-season award. He will be a big influence on the club,' said Kowloon director of rugby John Bruce.
Kowloon have flattered many times in the past, only to let down their fans in the end. Bruce believes this time the club can make up for all those years of disappointment.
'The last time Kowloon won a title is lost in the mists of time,' said Bruce. 'It is like Greek mythology. We came close two seasons ago to winning the Grand Championships, but lost in that 95-minute game. There is an air of optimism in the club and I hope we can win the league this season.'
They will be pushed all the way by Crown Valley - Grand Championship winners last season - Synovate HKCC, the reigning league champions, and CBRE Club.
Brian Higgins, who coached Valley to victory in the Grand Championship in 2005-06, is back again and he will rely on the experience of flyhalf Justin Temara as they make another bid for glory.
Valley are one of the most successful clubs in Hong Kong, and they will cement their position as the second-biggest club behind Football Club in terms of playing numbers this season by fielding six teams in the men's division and one women's team.
HKCC will miss last season's skipper Mike Meredith and Billy McQueen in the forwards. Prop Meredith has departed for Canada, while lineout specialist McQueen has relocated to Germany. They will also miss versatile scrumhalf Kane Jury, who will sit out this season due to a knee injury.
Much will depend on Colin Bisley, player-of-the-year last season, Pale Tauti and experienced campaigners Wayne Whitney and Simon Leung, both Hong Kong internationals, to provide a solid scrum. Newcomers Polonga Pedro, a lock-forward from Wellington, and prop David Johnston will add strength to the team.
Bisley will also take over coaching duties from Richard Cooke, who has joined the union's board of directors with coaching as his brief.
As in past years, Football Club will be committed to fielding their strongest possible combination every week. With second-stringers Dragons not in the First Division - which this time has been reduced to six teams as PLA have also opted to go down a step - Club can better focus their challenge this season.
Club have lost giant lock forward Danny O'Connor, but with a tradition for unearthing big forwards, it is likely they will once again rely on forward power to launch a credible challenge.
But Club coach Quinton Wrigley remained cautious. 'It's too early to tell at this stage, and it's a long season.'
DeA Tigers and Causeway Bay Rams, the two other teams in the First Division, will have their work cut out. With the league being played over three rounds and then the bottom two teams dropping out for the four-team knockout championship (the Grand Championships has been scrapped), DeA and CWB will be pushed to remain competitive.