The Addo Elephants struck a devastating blow as Julian Hykes netted a late winner for the 2016 runners-up against the Pro Grip Drakensberg Dragons as the 2018 CTM Premier Hockey League got underway at Randburg Astro on Saturday.
Also on opening day the Orange River Rafters came from behind to win their opener, the Mapungubwe Mambas gave coach Lungile Tsolekile the perfect start, the Blyde River Bunters continued their miserly ways and the Maropeng Cavemen and Garden Route Gazelles dished up a classic.
The first goal of the 2018 CTM Premier Hockey League was scored within 90 seconds of the tournament getting underway.
The Mambas’ Luthando Jonas found himself in some space and finished like a seasoned striker.
Things got even better for the Mambas, being coached by Tsolekile for the first time, when Michael Baiden made it 2-0. In the second half, there was signs of a fightback for the Golden Gate Gladiators as they pulled a goal back through the impressive Michael Forrest.
But the Mambas, who finished third in 2017, made sure of the victory when Jonty Robinson, a man with more than 100 caps for South Africa, settled the result.
The 2017 champions, the Orange River Rafters, got the women’s competition underway as they took on the Wineland Wings.
Both sides were missing some players currently on duty with the South African Indoor side in Zimbabwe.
That didn’t stop the Wings though and Tarryn Glasby, fresh from duty at the Vitality Hockey Women’s World Cup, fired home in the opening minute.
Almost systematically though, the defending champions started fighting back and with the last play of the opening quarter Nicole Walraven ― another World Cup member ― equalised with a deft deflection at the penalty corner.
The second quarter ended in almost the same way when entering the final minute of the quarter and the half Chane Hartel scooped a loose ball into the D beyond Charlize Swanepoel in the Wings goal to give Shaun Hulley’s Rafters a half-time lead.
The Rafters turned up the tempo and scored through Zeena Martin and four minutes later scored again through Hartel. The fourth was reviewed however and chalked off for a foot in the build-up.
The Wings fought back and Glasby pulled one back to set up a grandstand finish but unfortunately for the Wings they could not find the goal to level, giving the defending champions a good opening day win.
The Addo Elephants followed the example set by the opening two games by scoring early in the first quarter through Olympian Hykes and they quickly doubled through a fantastic tomahawk finish by Andrew Manson.
Last year’s runners-up, the Drakensberg Dragons started the uphill climb and would have felt a glimmer of hope when Francois Pretorius got one back for them. That hope grew when Richard Pautz scored a fantastic diving deflection to level.
The Dragons had an incredible 54 circle entries compared to 20 from the Elephants but somehow with the game heading to a shootout, superb work by Andrew Manson set up Hykes who finished to send the Elephants into delirium.
The crowd at Randburg were eagerly awaiting the appearance of the Blyde River Bunters captain Phumelela Mbande after her heroics against Argentina at the World Cup and they weren’t disappointed as she showed signs of the same form in denying the Madikwe Rangers any goals in a superb victory for Marcelle Keet’s Bunters.
It was a victory borne out of great rearguard defence but with a great opportunistic goal taken by Mmamoagi Kungoane, her second career PHL goal, after a through ball by Jessica de Bruyn-Smith was parried away by Mmatshepo Modipane.
The final game of day one had a bit of a slumbering first quarter but came to life sensationally in the second quarter when the Garden Route Gazelles took the lead through Commonwealth Games team member Tyson Dlungwana.
The defending champions were then further stunned as they fell 2-0 down through a Reece Arendse goal.
The Cavemen have not lost a game in open play since PHL 2016’s group stages and they showed their class as they fought back. They pulled one goal back sensationally through a Cameron Mackay deflection in the 30th minute before former South Africa U21 International Kyle Lion-Cachet levelled from a penalty corner in the 49th minute.
The most exciting period of the day was still to come though as Lion-Cachet gave the double champions the lead for the first time in the 58th minute giving Siya Nolutshungu no chance from a penalty stroke.
If the Cavemen thought they could celebrate their victory they would be mistaken as the Gazelles, under the leadership of the impressive Ashlin Freddy, fought back again and found the game-tying goal from Luke Schooling after a great piece of play from Dlungwana.
As is in the CTM PHL rules, every game must have a result and it was down to a shootout to decide the winner.
In the shootout, Estiaan Kriek, only playing for the Cavemen due to Rassie Pieterse’s unavailability, saved twice which was ultimately enough to see Mark Sanders’ team home with the three points.
Of course, the nature of the CTM PHL is such that the teams went home, analysed match videos and prepared themselves for another day of action-packed hockey on Sunday.
Photos: Hykes scores the opening goal (main picture) and Glasby looks on after netting her side’s opening goal, by Sean Burke/PHL
Old Mutual iWyze Golden Gate Gladiators 1 Elf Laminates Mapungubwe Mambas 3
Kilimanjaro Addo Elephants 3 Pro Grip Drakensberg Dragons 2
Origins Maropeng Cavemen 3 Garden Route Gazelles 3 (Cavemen won shoot-out 4-3)
Ceramic Industries Wineland Wings 2 Italtile Orange River Rafters 3
Tivoli Taps Blyde River Bunters 1 Top T Madikwe Rangers 0