Universiti Kuala Lumpur (UniKL) coach Arul Selvaraj has shrugged off expectations and speculations that the 2018 overall champions are once again early favourites to repeat their success when the 2019 MHL season kicks off tomorrow starting with the Tan Sri P. Alagendra Cup knockout tournament.
“It’s merely speculation and high expectation by the media,” said Arul with wryly smile after a two-hour training session with the team at the Tengku Abdullah Stadium in Bangi, the home venue of UniKL. “How I wish it is going to be as easy as that. But there are many turns and rough surfaces we need to overcome for now to reach there.”
For all the media hype, a modest Arul believes Tenaga Nasional Berhad (TNB), who has the services of 10 national players, is the team to beat in the MHL season.
“TNB is an all-round local outfit with experience national players. There is quality in their side. This is the team that has strength in every department,” said Arul. “As for UniKL, our preparation just took off and like some other teams; we don’t have our foreign signings yet. So the Alagendra Cup is going to be a tough battle for us and we have a lot of hard work in store.”
“We are working with the senior players and youngsters to play a smart game based on the situation. We will take one game at a time and evaluate our situation in the match,” he added.
TNB received a bye into the semi-finals of the Tan Sri P. Alagendra Cup while UniKL will go up against TNB Thunderbolts in the quarterfinals tomorrow at the National Hockey Stadium in Bukit Jalil.
He added that although the absence of Kuala Lumpur Hockey Club (KLHC) has ‘reduced the competitiveness of the 2019 MHL’ it has not taken away the glitter of the league owing to the strong challenge posed by the other six teams – Terengganu Hockey Team (THT), TNB, Universiti Teknologi Mara (UiTM), Maybank, TNB Thunderbolts and Nur Insafi.
UniKL have only three current national players in the squad – team captain Muhammad Marhan Mohd Jalil, national team captain Mohd Sukri Abdul Mutalib and drag-flick specialist Muhd Razie Abdul Rahman. Two other former internationals are Baljit Singh and Harwinder Singh.
Their foreign signings are Robbert Kemperman, Martijn Havenga and Valentin Verga from Netherlands, defender Timothy Deavin and forward Keiren Govers both from Australia, and goalkeeper David Harte of Ireland.
“Once our foreign signings are here, which could be before the Charity Shield match against THT on Jan 11, only than are we able to beef up of our strength. For now, we have to work hard and manoeuvre our way in the Alagendra Cup with lot of hard work,” added Arul.