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Friday, December 12, 2008

First competitive test for new-look Rhinos

KOTA KINABALU: The Rhinos will be put to their first test when they compete in the Datuk Saravanan Challenge trophy starting in Labuan tonight.

It will be interesting to see how they will fare after losing almost all their first team players for the new season.

Their true strength and weaknesses will prevail in this tournament organised by My Event Management Services and participated by two Super League outfits DPMM Brunei and Pahang.

This will be the Rhinos’ first competitive assignment under the guidance of newly appointed head coach Wathiq Naji.

“After losing so many players at the end of last season it is like starting all over again for us, but the management is not too worried because we know this team can only move forward.

“It is a mixed blend of experienced and young players and as long as they are willing to work hard and fight for the team, which I know they will, I think we will be ready for the challenge,” said Rahman Zakaria.

“I believe the current players are not here just for the money, but they are those who are not only willing to fight for the team, but have the pride to play for the state of Sabah,” the Rhinos’ team manager added.

Those regulars who have left the team are Ahmad Tharmini Saiban, Mohd Nafuzi Zain, Hishamuddin Othman, Zuraindey Jumai, Chow Chee Wing, Bobby Gonzalez, Mohd Munir Amran, and Eddie Gapil.

Teams in the M-League will not have the services of foreign players after the FA of Malaysia decided to do away with the imports, where last time out each team was allowed to sign three players.

On the Labuan trip, Rahman said this will be a good opportunity for the team to test their true capability as they will be taking on Super League outfits.

“This will be a good preparation for us because we will be facing good opponents and it will certainly benefit the team.

“After this it will give us a clearer picture on where we stand and we will try to rectify our weaknesses.

“It will also give us the opportunity to find the right combination of players for the first team or the top 16.

“I hope the players will take this opportunity to prove to the coach they deserve a place in the first team.

“I also want to remind the players the importance of playing as a team. We don’t want any star players, because we firmly believe team work is one of the crucial ingredients towards achieving success,” said Rahman.

Rahman said they are almost there as far as their readiness for the new season is concerned.

“I think the players are ready and from the aspect of fitness, I think we need another 20 to 30 per cent to go.

“After this tournament I think we are going to play one or two more friendly matches and by then the team should be ready for the new season,” he said.

Wathiq has named an 18-member squad for the trip, and out of the 18, only half are from last year’s squad including three young goalkeepers – Irwan Jamil, Harold John and Mohd Salawi Jasad.

The other six are defender Hardy Charles Parsi, midfielders Mohd Radzi Hussin, Wong Sai Kong and Zulamri Muhammad and strikers Salvester Sindeh and Zainizam Marjan.

Former Bukit Jalil-based midfielder Leopold George, who is the latest player to be roped in by the Sabah FA, is also among those being included for the trip alongside another rookie striker from Keningau Alto Jinus, who is only 22 years old.

Another two new faces making the trip are midfielder Awang Norizan Ensim and former Kuala Muda Naza defender Mohd Fariss Mat Isa.

Defenders Gasili Pengalot, Mohd June Azral Lalah, Clarrey Tabad and Mafry Balang, who are all ex-Rhinos that are making a comeback into the State team, are also making the trip.

Rosdin Wasli, who is recuperating from a knee operation, is among those left behind for the trip.

There was also no place for last season’s squad’s players – Henry Parsi, Azrul Ejati Damsah and Mohd Farid Saibun while the new faces that are not in the 18-man squad are Hamidin Amat, Selyvister Saini and Rezuan Aman Khan.

Sabah will face two Super League outfits DPMM Brunei and Pahang.

They take on Brunei in the opener tonight before playing Pahang the following day.

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