The TNB-Malaysian Hockey League gets underway on Saturday and players will be motivated by the fact that they stand a chance to impress national coach Paul Revington who has stated that he will base his selection on criteria and not past glory or history.Thus players who have had their careers cut short over the years will undoubtedly grab this chance to make the national training squad that has the Champions Challenge 1 and Asian Champions Trophy in November and December respectively.
The usual suspects, KL Hockey Club and Tenaga Nasional Berhad start as odds on favourites as the other teams in the Premier Division Sapura, Maybank, UniKL and Nur Insafi-MBI have openly declared that they will find out tough to match these two teams, prefering to focus on amking the semis of a TNB Cup.
With the seven teams in Division One fighting it out on their own for league and overall title, matches amongst the Premier League teams are expected to go to the wire before the four semifinalists will be known on September 30, the final day of league matches.
Fans are in for a treat in the opening day where defending treble champions KL Hockey Club take on last years league runners-up Sapura in the Charity Shield.
And with host broadcaster Astro Arena opting only to show the semis and finals, fans are urged to make their way to the National Hockey Stadium in Bukit Jalil for a weekend of hockey fiesta for the next seven weeks.
Sapura have a team that comprise of promising youngsters and steady old hands that are packed with experiene while KLHC's line-up comprises the who's who of Malaysian hockey.
Thus it comes as no surprise that former national coach Stephen van Huizen, who now is a coaching consultant for Sapura conceded that KLHC will be the team to beat in the MHL while at the same time does nor relish the fact that his charges will be up against KLHC in the opening match of the MHL.
"KLHC are the favourites as they are not only the defending double champions but have the services of all the key national players as well as ex national players who have played together for a few years. Thus they have built up good understanding coupled with solid combinations and armed with set pieces in penalty corners and dead ball situations," Stephen.
The former national coach who guided Malaysia via the qualifiers to the 2000 Sydney Olympics said tha in Mohd Razie Rahim, Ahmad Kazamirul and Baljit Singh, KLHC has a sound penalty corner battery as the trio are good flickers while Ismail Abu wallops a good hit.
"Besides having good set pieces via the ability of Tengku Ahmad Tajuddin, Chua Boon Huat, Azlan Misron and Kevinder Singh, KLHC has strength on the bench and I expect them to go fora win and score goals as insurance since there are only six teams in the league and the title could be decided on goal difference," added Stephen.
Stephen said that with a new national coach at the helm, he expects ex-players will be trying their best to impress and make comeback and that will be a motivation to raise their game.
Sapura have the likes of S. Kuhan, the Mohan brothers Jiwa and Jivan, Megat Azrafiq Megat Termizi in the line up and have secured the services of Korea's Jason Lee Mung Seon and Pakistan's Muhammad Imran to boost their chalenge. And they also can count on national players Mohd Marhan Jalil, Azreen Rizal Nasir and Izwan Firdaus Ahmad Tajuddin to help their cause.
Blending the experince with youthful zest in the likes of Harmesh Singh, Joel van Huizen, Manraj Singh and Meor Muhammad Azuan Hassan, who are expected to shoulder more responsibilities as the season progresses.
"Playing them first has its pro and cons . Hopefully they need time to settle into the competition mode and need to take 3 points as favourites with TNB thus putting pressure on themselves," conceded Sapura skipper Kuhan.
"But a bad start means that we have to get a favourable result against UniKL in our match on Sunday. Otherwise we will be chasing in the tournament and putting undue pressure on ourselves from the first weekend.
"Playing open hockey against KLHC will be suicidal but we have no intention of parking the bus either. We have some options to consider but taking one point of them will be a great result for us."
Another intersting match up on Saturday will be betwwen Maybank and TNB while UniKL will be hoping to have a winning start against Nur Insafi-MBI.
Note: An attempt to seek comments from KLHC officials drew a blank as they did not respond to emails sent.