The group stages of the CTM Premier Hockey League (PHL) are complete.
Ahead of this weekend’s men’s semi-finals let’s look at the four contenders in order of league position.
Pro Grip Drakensberg Dragons (first – 13 points)
Coach: Sihle Ntuli
Captain: Jethro Eustice
Previous best PHL finish: second in 2017
The Drakensberg Dragons steamed to the top of the log by virtue of the bonus point secured in the crushing 6-1 victory over semi-final opponents the Maropeng Cavemen. After losing their opening game against the Addo Elephants, the Dragons have won four on the trot and find themselves with momentum on their side. With 17 goals they are the tournament’s top scorers and Richard Pautz leads the individual standings too. If they are to progress to the final, the likes of the in-form Mo Mea, Bili Ntuli, Peter Jarvis and Dylan Swanepoel will be integral.
‘We have played really well so far. We have done well in dominating statistically but this year we have taken our chances,’ said Ntuli, ‘We know that the Cavemen have tremendous quality and we will have to play to our best, but there is no doubt that if we play to our potential we can be in the 4pm game on Sunday.’
Kilimanjaro Addo Elephants (second – 12 points)
Coach: Cheslyn Gie
Captain: Miguel da Graca
Previous best PHL finish: second in 2016
The Addo Elephants took the CTM Premier Hockey League 2018 by storm with four wins out of the blocks before they lost out in the final group game to their semi-final opponents. The Elephants boast the attacking dynamic duo of Ignatius Malgraff and Julian Hykes, the two highest scorers in PHL history, who, if they fire on the same day, are unplayable. In Miguel da Graca they have a captain who knows how to win and in Daniel Bell they have arguably the player of the tournament so far. Andrew Manson also continues to play his best hockey for the Elephants, who welcome Cerezo Comersamy back from injury.
‘The 2018 PHL has gone really well for us and we are happy with the group stages,’ said Gie, ‘We had a flat final game on Sunday, but knowing we were already through and the players were tired played into that. I’m excited for this weekend and the chance to get back to the CTM PHL final again!’
Garden Route Gazelles (third – nine points)
Coach: Ashlin Freddy
Captain: Keenan Horne
Previous best PHL finish: Semi-Finals (2016)
The Gazelles lost their opening two games, one via the dreaded shootout, before storming back into the semi-final picture with three wins in a row. They are the only one of the semi-finalists with a new coach this year and Freddy will be delighted with the progress the team has made. They scored 16 goals, the second most, through 11 different players, showing their goal scoring ability across the team. Connor Beauchamp has one of the more lethal flicks in SA hockey, while Taine Paton and Brandon James are playing the best hockey they have played in recent years. Michael Abrahams has had a great CTM PHL, while Tyson Dlungwana and Gerald Mpopo continue to produce fantastic displays. And in Siya Nolutshungu they have a match winner in goals.
‘The players have been awesome to work with, open to new ideas and a different way of doing things that they might not be accustomed to,’ shared Freddy. ‘We’re improving each game as a unit and are excited for the next stage of the tournament. They’re a very good attacking side which presents numerous challenges, so we’ll need to be solid defensively if we are to get a result.’
Origins Maropeng Cavemen (fourth – seven points)
Coach: Mark Sanders
Captain: Rassie Pieterse
Previous best PHL finish: Winners (2016 & 2017)
The Cavemen experienced their toughest group stage of CTM Premier Hockey League history but made it safely through to the final four on the back of the opening weekend’s seven points. They also welcome back influential Ricky West for this weekend in a major coup for the double defending champions. They’re the only team in the semi-final line-up to have never lost a knockout game at the CTM Premier Hockey League. Although they’re known as an experienced side, featuring the likes of Tommy Hammond, Rassie Pieterse, Lance Louw and Reza Rosenberg in the ranks, it’s been Chad Futcher, Rayner York, Kyle Lion-Cachet and Peabo Lembethe who have been the stars for Sanders in his quest for the third star!
‘Look we haven’t had the best group stage but our goal was to get to the final four and we are there,’ said Sanders, ‘we know that in most of the games we’ve made mistakes, but we’re ready for this weekend. The tournament starts now, and we look forward to defending our crown!’
Photo: The Cavemen’s Rainer York in action, by Sean Burke/PHL
12 noon – Kilimanjaro Addo Elephants v Garden Route Gazelles
PHL 2018 Group Stage – Elephants 1 Gazelles 3
PHL 2017 Group Stage – Elephants 4 Gazelles 0
PHL 2016 Semi-Final – Elephants 2 Gazelles 1
PHL 2016 Group Stage – Elephants 2 Gazelles 8
4pm – Pro Grip Drakensberg Dragons v Origins Maropeng Cavemen
PHL 2018 Group Stage – Dragons 6 Cavemen 1
PHL 2017 Final – Dragons 0 Cavemen 3
PHL 2017 Group Stage – Dragons 0 Cavemen 3
PHL 2016 Group Stage – Dragons 1 Cavemen 2