HKRU Premiership 2016-17

Tough start to the Premiership has Hong Kong primed for Cup of Nations, says James Cunningham

The Kowloon flanker hopes an impressive performance in his side’s match against Tigers on Saturday will see him earn a spot in Leigh Jones’ squad

PUBLISHED : Friday, 04 November, 2016, 1:57pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 27 December, 2016, 4:38pm

A tough opening six rounds of the HKRU Premiership will ensure Hong Kong are ready to fire in the Cup of Nations, according to Kowloon flanker James Cunningham.

Hong Kong take on Zimbabwe, Russia and Papua New Guinea in the round robin tournament starting next week and Cunningham, who debuted in last year’s series, is confident the side is well placed.

“Personally I think the local competition has been a lot more competitive this year than last year,” he said.

“Last year was only my first year though, so I don’t know what it was like in previous years. Also, the national training that we have done over the last block has been unreal so it’s great lead up for Cup of Nations.”

Hong Kong-born Cunningham, who spent only six months here as a baby, is only a couple of games back from an ankle injury and is hoping to be in Leigh Jones’ side when it is announced next week.

He is banking on another strong performance at domestic level in Kowloon’s clash with Borrelli Walsh USRC Tigers on Saturday being enough to prove he is ready to go.

“Fingers crossed I can get selected in the team,” Cunningham said.

“I have just got to play another good game of club rugby this weekend and see what happens. After my injury I’m just keen to play as much rugby as possible at the moment.”

Cunningham’s rugby journey has been an interesting one, with the 26-year-old playing at a high level in both league and union in Australia.

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He played in the second team for NRL side Manly after coming through the club’s junior ranks and did a pre-season with the New South Wales Waratahs when Michael Cheika – the current Australia boss – was coach.

“I did all my juniors in rugby union and then after schoolboys I was playing both league and union and basically I didn’t get offered any contracts in rugby union but I got offered a rugby league deal, so I jumped ship then,” Cunningham said.

“I think it was 2013 or ’14 that I made a decision that I wanted to come back, I wasn’t enjoying myself playing league as much.”

Not long after switching back to union Cunningham met ex-Tigers coach Chris Davies, who is now head analyst for the Hong Kong side, in Australia.

Naturally, with Cunningham born in Hong Kong the conversation led to the rugby situation here and the rest is history.

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“Chris was telling me he was coaching in Hong Kong and then I spoke to the union and they were talking about this new programme they were developing and one thing led to another,” Cunningham said.

“I hadn’t been back to Hong Kong since I was born so it was a pretty exciting experience.”

Although Kowloon currently sit bottom of the Premiership table with only one win from five matches, a win this week against Tigers will ensure they are not cut adrift in last.

A fighting 24-18 loss to league leaders Societe Generale Valley last week showed Kowloon are not far off and Cunningham feels their game is starting to come together.

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“We’re starting to get things going like they were at the end of last season, it’s a bit of a slower start than we wanted but we are doing some good things on the field,” he said.

In other matches, Valley take on Natixis HKFC and Bloomberg HK Scottish host Herbert Smith Freehills HKCC.

In the KPMG Women’s Premiership, Tigers face CPM Gai Wu Falcons, Kowloon lock horns with Comvita City Sparkle and Valley and HKFC clash.