The Lao Elephants came together in 2007 as the first Australian Rules Football club in Laos. The club got off to a strong start and won the Indochina Cup in 2008. In the several years following, the ‘Phants stayed competitive but with many original players moving on, and with a strong focus on the development of Lao national players, weren’t able to add anything to the trophy cabinet. So it came as a surprise to many when the Elephants turned up to the 2015 Asian Champs in Bangkok as a hungry and well prepared team (including 5 highly skilled Lao players), and went undefeated all day to take out the 2nd division title – a feat they’ll be looking to replicate in 2016.
The player list for the Elephants at AC16 looks quite similar to last year’s winning side, with a couple of notable absences such as ex-captain and President Steve Chapman and gun midfielder Steve Bruce, who have both moved back to Australia. The team has not been able to come together for many matches or training sessions in 2016, and have played only one friendly match against the Thai Gaelic Football Club in Khon Kaen in February for a mixed rules game. Despite this, individual training regimes have continued and the team is feeling fit and confident that they can go back-to-back in Ho Chi Minh City.
The star of AC15, big Blair Bell will be playing for the ‘Phants and will be joined by his brother Callum for some Bell Double Trouble. Keeping it in the family again, Coach Craig Quigg – a veteran of the Lao Elephants – will be playing alongside his son Zak. Jonathan (not so) Small will be in the ruck again and knocking it down to the mustached menace, Andrew Haydon. Also keep an eye out for James Cannell – the longest serving Elephant in the team – who will be pulling on the pink guernsey for the last time and looking to go out in style (expect lots of bananas at goal from the boundary).
A view from above: Asia’s favorite men in pink were a popular winner last year in AFL Asia’s first Division 2 competition. If they are to go back to back they won’t want any premiership hangovers at 7.30 Saturday morning when they face IndoChina neighbours Thailand Tigers in the first game of the day. With danger games against Myanmar and Bali to follow, it wont be an easy road to the finals for the Phants but with a big squad packed with some of the most exciting and experienced local talent in IndoChina, they will rightly come to Saigon as one of the second division favorites and one of the teams to watch.