Could the shock resignation of Deacon Manu galvanise HKCC and drive them to glory?
New coach Kevin West remains positive after opening the season with victory over Hong Kong Scottish
Catching a rampant Valley is no mean feat at the moment and will require the planets to align for one of the five clubs in the chasing pack to pull it off.
HKCC were shaping as the club most likely to end Valley’s run of three consecutive grand championships after recruiting heavily to complement an already strong list.
Nine new players committed to the club over the summer – more than in the past two seasons combined – and things were looking good.
That was until early last week when coach Deacon Manu resigned in the shadows of the opening round, thrusting Kevin West into the role of interim coach.
Details around the decision were sketchy at the time, with Manu saying this week that he was no longer the right fit for the role.
“I felt a lot of what I was doing wasn’t what a head coach should be doing, for example writing membership handbooks for the rugby section and writing up contracts, among other things,” he said.
“I felt like I was doing 80 per cent administration and 20 per cent coaching. I understand that sometimes that happens but actually trying to get to a certain level was really difficult.”
A disagreement over HKCC’s pre-season trip to Singapore also played a part in Manu’s resignation.
“About two weeks before [the trip] there were some concerns with the Zika virus. The Zika is a pretty serious thing,” Manu said.
“A lot of the players were torn and did not know the consequences of the Zika virus. I felt that it was my position as a head coach to have safety as the first priority and inform them.
“I told them ‘whatever your decision is, I’ll back you 100 per cent’ and ultimately that wasn’t in favour of some of the people in management, but not all of them.”
Despite the last-minute upheaval, HKCC are keen to look forward and showed with a fighting 30-23 win over Scottish in the opening round that they are still in reasonable stead.
“It is one of those things, it happened last week, we have had to quickly pick up the pieces, thankfully Kevin has stepped in to the breach and the players and the club are 100 per cent behind him, which came out in the result last weekend,” HKCC team manager Richard Cooke said.
“With anything like this, the early uptake has been positive but I am sure there is going to be some tough times ahead. We will get through those together.”
The major positive that can be taken out of all of this for the club is that a ready-made replacement like West was on hand to take over.
Only time will tell, but incidents like this – and others far more serious, of course – have been known to bring a side closer together.
Is this just what HKCC need to take that final step and wrest back the cup from Valley?
One definite plus is that Cooke says West is likely to coach out the season, offering some stability.
“The whole squad and the club are very much united and together behind Kevin,” he said.
“We are just looking forward to getting on with the rest of it now.”
For Manu, he maintains it was no easy decision to hand in his resignation after leading HKCC to two grand final appearances and a league title and he still expects big things from his former charges.
“I still care for the guys and I want to see them do the double and I think they have got a realistic chance of doing it this year,” he said.
“For me, I wouldn’t expect anything less. The calibre of players is the best pool of talent we have assembled over the last two years.”
Only time will tell whether HKCC – with so many new players still adapting to their surrounds – can turn the negative of losing a quality coach into a positive and return to the top of Hong Kong rugby.