Emotional victory for Sabah in Agong’s Cup Final

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Sabah had to dig deep into their reserves to triumph over Kelantan to bring back the Agong Cup back home after two years and it was the close knit comradeship in the team that saw them pull through.

Sabah defeated Kelantan in a close battle coming from the jaw of defeat to edge Kelantan 47-45 on Sunday the National Defence University of Malaysia (NDUM) Stadium in Sungei Besi on Sunday.

While it was a team effort which earned Sabah the victory, for three players it was extra emotional, namely captain and former All Black player Charles Luke McAlister, vice-captain Nathanael Tan and fly half substitute Fijian Serupepeli Naqasima.

Luke besides his experience brought to the team, he contributed in scoring when Kelantan were leading 10-7, when Sabah were awarded two penalties which he in the 29th and 35th minutes as well as a try by Helbarth Jemlit and conversion by Luke to give Sabah a 20-10 lead.

Again Kelantan went ahead again just before half-time following two tries by Zulkiflee Azmi (31st minute) and Wan Azley Wan Omar (36th minute) and Azwan’s successful conversions as Kelantan went to lead again 24-20.

After the breather Luke converted two more penalty kicks.

And Naqsima who had come on after the breather, virtually wrapped up the game for Sabah scoring two tries and Muhammad Safwan in the 60th and 70th minutes and Amirul’s successful conversions for Sabah to lead 40-24.

Another try from Naqasima and conversion by Amirul saw Sabah went further ahead 47-24.

Despite Kelantan hitting back with three tries from Mohamad Khairul Abdillah, Muhammad Zulhisyam Rasli and Mohd Syahir Asyraf and three conversions to narrow the score to 47-45 in the closing stages, victory was for Sabah.

 

 

In a post-match meeting back the hotel after the final, Luke in tears said: “In all my years of playing rugby, this was the highest accolade. The reason being I have never seen such close unity, bonding, harmony and brotherhood like this before.

“Players were determined to play for another.”

Head coach, Bradley Moni Mika, could not agree more and said it was a close battle where the game could have gone either way but true character of the players prevailed to clinch victory.

“Full credit to all the players in the squad for rising to the occasion despite trailing on numerous occasions. The players were hungry and showed that they wanted the title badly and fought all the way to down the equally determined Kelantan team,” said Mika who was in tears immediately after the final whistle and knelt down to say a thanksgiving prayer.

Naqsima on the other hand said winning the Cup for the third time (2013, 2014 and 2018) and winning after a two-year lapse was indeed sweet.

“I was said to be old, but the coach believed in me and different plans for me in the team. I was used as a substitute and for my experience,” said the 38 year-old.

“I am glad I came on made and contributed and scored the crucial points.”

On him scoring three tries when he broke through the Kelantan defence with ease, he said:” While on the bench was I was observing the Kelantan defence who were formidable and were causing us problems in breaking through.

“I noticed their weak point and area in the defence and capitalised on it and am glad it worked out,” said Naqsima who is among the panel of coaches with Sabah Eagles in Sandakan.

Nathanael, who had the agony of being in the sin bin for the closing stages of the game added: “The close knit relationship we had with one another….watching out for each other and the fighting spirit with a never give up attitude ultimately gave us the victory despite us facing many challenges and difficulties in our preparation as well as leading up to the final. The Sabah Eagles just kept their focus.”

On a personal note Nathanael shared with his teammates who difficult it was for him to make a comeback from the injury sustained during the Asia Premier.

“Winning the Agong Cup was indeed an icing on the cake but thanks to the head coach and his coaching staff and all the players who kept to the mission and stayed focus on the task ahead, we triumphed.”

The prize money RM15,000 was a bonus to Sabah as champions but bringing home the title for the fifth time was priceless.

Sabah made their debut Agong’s final in 2005 but lost, and went on to win in 2007, 2009, 2014 and 2015.

Since the Agong Cup was introduced in 1983, PDRM won the inaugural title.

Armed Forces has won the Cup the most – 11 times. Selangor is next with six wins, followed by Kelantan with four victories under their belt.

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