New coach and infusion of talent show HKCC’s intent
Former Fiji captain and Waikato Chiefs star Deacon Manu takes charge
Defending HKRFU league champions Leighton Asia Hong Kong Cricket Club are setting their sights on Grand Championships glory after recruiting former Fiji captain and Waikato Chiefs star Deacon Manu as club coaching officer this season.
HKCC want to reprise their excellent season of last year, a campaign that included the league title and a spot in the Grand Championships final, a narrow 20-14 loss to Societe Generale Valley. Last season’s only blemish was the club’s inability to secure a win over Valley, with their four defeats against the eventual grand champions marking their only losses of the year.
Adding to the challenge this season is the loss of key players like number eight Pale Tauti and scrum-half Kenneth Hsieh, both of whom retired in the close season. First-choice fullback Nick Wheatley has returned to the United Kingdom, while lock Mike Parfitt transferred to Bloomberg Hong Kong Scottish.
HKCC will rely on an experienced core of Hong Kong national team stars to mount their challenge, while also drawing on new locally recruited talent such as Adrian Griffiths, an incoming transfer from Scottish, and wing/centre Rowan Varty, who has come over from USRC Tigers. Varty will join his Hong Kong sevens squad teammates Alex and Tom McQueen at Aberdeen Stadium this season, adding potency to the HKCC backline.
“The opportunity with HKCC was too good to pass up,” said Manu. “It is my first full-time foray into coaching so I’m excited. It’s been a lot of work so far but I’m really enjoying it.”
Manu’s initial impressions of local rugby are equally positive. “It’s more of a southern hemisphere style of rugby here, maybe the artificial surfaces contribute to that, but the skill levels are high. There are a lot of players who have played to a very high standard, so the league standard is quite high,” he said.
“We were fortunate to retain some key players from last season. There are a lot of guys who have been there and done that, especially the national team players. That experience is going to be important in making the transitions we want to make.
“We will be focusing on closing out those tight games that we have lost in the past. We need to get that confidence and make sure we don’t get away from what we want to do on the pitch, which is continue to score good tries and maintain our structure.
“I expect most teams will target us early on. We are missing a few of the sevens boys early in the season and have a couple of guys out injured. We are eyeing a top four finish, it doesn’t really matter which place really, to qualify for the play-offs.
“From there we want to make sure we are carrying some momentum and playing a complete game. By then we definitely want to be playing the style we want and showing what defines us as Cricket Club rugby,” Manu said.
Manu is pleased that HKCC’s recruiting has kept up with the league-wide standard. “We have some good signings and have added players that have played to a professional standard,” he said.
International signings for the season include South African scrum-half Liam Slatem, Kiwis Jason Kjestrup and Dave Panirau, and centre/wing Conor Hartley from the UK.
“Liam has played a lot of quality rugby in South Africa and has had a couple of trials in South Africa and the UK. He is a great contributor both on and off the pitch.”
Hartley arrives from a tenure as an Exeter prospect and Manu likes his chances to carve a long-term spot in local rugby circles.
“Conor was one of the players we aggressively recruited,” Manu said. “He can be a long-term prospect as his partner was born and raised in Hong Kong. He is really keen to progress his rugby career here.”
Manu has also identified a few Waikato prospects in fly half Kjestrup and No 8 Panirau. “Jason has been in the Waikato set-up for a long while and has been on the fringes of sevens selection. He is very astute, very technically proficient and comes highly rated by the performance guys in Waikato. He was keen to get a new experience and play a bit abroad.”
Panirau is another player that has come up through the club ranks in New Zealand. “I have a lot of respect for Dave,” says Manu. “He’s a very aggressive, but very honest player. He is really the kind of guy we are looking for.”
HKCC’s path to the Grand Championships will have to go through the Valley. That battle will start in week one with the Valley v HKCC tie the showcase match at this weekend’s Super Saturday league kick-off at King’s Park.
“They are the champs. We can’t take anything away from them, but we were very competitive against them last season,” says Manu. “We just need to make sure we get our combinations right. If we do that it will give us a chance, but they will be tough. We can only go out and give it our best and hope at the end of the day that the score will be on our side.”
HKCC will also field four men’s teams in Premiership A and in National Leagues 1, 2 and 4. For the first time ever, the club will field a team in the HKRFU’s Women’s National League 1 fifteens league. The women’s squad is bolstered by the inclusion of several players from the HKU Sandy Bay U19s team, reinforcing the player pathway to the senior ranks from HKU Sandy Bay.