Words Matty Gale – Photos Kai Photography
Let it be known, there’s a new heavyweight of Asian Football as the PNG Muruks deservedly hoisted the AFL Asia 2019 Asian Championships Infinity Division 1 trophy after defeating the Hong Kong Dragons by 22 points in Saturday’s Infinity Division 1 Grand Final at the Thai Polo & Equestrian Club, Pattaya in Thailand.
The smooth moving, fast, tenacious and highly spirited PNG Muruks have been elevated to the upper echelon of the AFL Asia history books, which is warranted after effortlessly taking out last year’s Division 2 title and running the gauntlet in their first year of top flight football at this year’s ‘Asian Champs’.
The highly anticipated Infinity Division 1 Asian Championships lived up to all of the hype and anticipation leading into this year’s ‘20th Asian Champs’, as some serious contenders announced themselves at various stages of the tournament.
Infinity Division 1 Round 1 Report
Last year’s Asian Champions – The Indonesian Volcanoes got themselves on the back foot from the outset of the tournament after falling at the hands of an extremely focused Hong Kong Dragons outfit by the narrowest of margins – a mere point. The Malaysian Warriors and the Philippine Eagles faced off in what would eventually be a fight for 5th and 6th place, as both sides have lost a plethora of playing numbers over the past 12-18 months. The surprising result of Round 1 was the closeness of the PNG Muruks and Singapore Wombats contest, which went right down to the wire, with the Muruks getting on top when it mattered by less than a kick against the gallant Wombats!
Infinity Division 1 Round 1 Results
Hong Kong Dragons 3.1 (19) vs Indonesian Volcanoes 3.0 (18)
Malaysian Warriors 4.2 (26) vs Philippine Eagles 2.3 (15)
PNG Muruks 4.4 (28) vs Singapore Wombats 3.6 (24)
Infinity Division 1 Round 2 Report
Round 2 saw the Hong Kong Dragons register their 2nd straight victory, which allowed them to get off to a flyer, with a two and zip start and a side full of momentum. The Indonesian Volcanoes got themselves back into contention with a handy victory against the ultra-consistent Singapore Wombats, who despite being 0-2, were playing some fantastic football without registering a desirable victory. The PNG Muruks began to accelerate through the gears and registered a welcomed percentage booster against the struggling Philippine Eagles to also go 2-0.
Infinity Division 1 Round 2 Results
Hong Kong Dragons 6.4 (40) vs Malaysian Warriors 2.0 (12)
Indonesian Volcanoes 2.4 (16) vs Singapore Wombats 2.0 (12)
PNG Muruks 11.5 (71) vs Philippine Eagles 1.0 (6)
Infinity Division 1 Round 3 Report
The Hong Kong Dragons fantastic start to the tournament continued with another ‘W’ in their win column and a handy injection of percentage at the halfway point of the tournament. It become a do or die affair for last year’s Champions the Indonesian Volcanoes when they came up against the PNG Muruks and they struggled to get enough scoreboard pressure whilst aided by a strong first half breeze and were eventually overtaken by the all-conquering PNG Muruks, who run away with the contest when it was up for grabs. The Singapore Wombats finally got some reward for effort with a breakthrough victory against the aging Malaysian Warriors, as they looked to launch themselves back into thick of the action with 2 games remaining.
Infinity Division 1 Round 3 Results
Hong Kong Dragons 11.4 (70) vs Philippine Eagles 1.4 (10)
PNG Muruks 3.3 (21) vs Indonesian Volcanoes 1.3 (9)
Singapore Wombats 3.2 (20) vs Malaysian Warriors 0.0 (0)
Infinity Division 1 Round 4 Report
The game that ultimately turned the entire tournament on it’s head and ended up being a prelude to the actual AFL Asia 2019 Infinity Division 1 Grand Final was the drawn match between eventual Grand Finalists, the Hong Kong Dragons and the PNG Muruks. The sleeping giants – The Indonesian Volcanoes got their title defence back on track somewhat with a comprehensive victory over the Malaysian Warriors albeit short lived, whilst the Singapore Wombats kicked their highest score of the tournament, as they outclassed the Philippine Eagles in convincing fashion by over 10 sausage rolls.
Infinity Division 1 Round 4 Results
Hong Kong Dragons 3.2 (20) vs PNG Muruks 3.2 (20)
Indonesian Volcanoes 7.5 (47) vs Malaysian Warriors 0.1 (1)
Singapore Wombats 11.3 (69) vs Philippine Eagles 1.0 (6)
Infinity Division 1 Round 5 Report
The persevering Singapore Wombats had nothing to play except for pride in their dead rubber against the Hong Kong Dragons, however they left nothing in the tank and ran away easy winners in a determined effort, which saw them more than double the Hong Kong Dragons score, who had already qualified for the big dance against the highly-fancied PNG Muruks. The Indonesian Volcanoes soon became the Harlem Globetrotters in their final match as they got out their party tricks against the Philippine Eagles, who were desperate to get their miserable day over and done with.
AFL icon, 2011 Brownlow Medalist and 2019 Asian Champs Ambassador Dane Swan made his debut for the Volcanoes in the first half, before quickly changing guernseys at half time and pulling on an Eagles guernsey for the 2nd half. In one of the on-field highlights of the tournament, ‘Swanny’ marked the ball on the half forward flank and leisurely pumped a 50m plus goal straight through the middle and during the celebrations of his thumping goal he was given a personal shoeshine by AFL Asia’s President and adjudicating Field Umpire Matt Gale. Meanwhile, the PNG Muruks made light work of the Malaysian Warriors in their final hit out leading into the Grand Final.
Infinity Division 1 Round 5 Results
Singapore Wombats 6.5 (35) vs Hong Kong Dragons 3.1 (17)
Indonesian Volcanoes 11.10 (76) vs Philippine Eagles 1.0 (6)
PNG Muruks 8.6 (54) vs Malaysian Warriors 1.1 (7)
Infinity Division 1 Standings – After 5 Rounds
Infinity Division 1 Grand Final
The PNG Muruks went into this year’s Grand Final as short-priced favourites, whilst the Hong Kong Dragons who were the overwhelming underdogs kicking the first goal in the opening minute of the Grand Final and got their strong travelling party of Dragons into full voice early on. Despite the Dragons winning the aerial contests, the PNG Muruks who were slow out of the blocks, quickly got themselves into the game at ground level with their strong tackling, evasiveness and sharp skills under pressure when it counted.
As the game progressed the PNG Muruks speed, tenacity and team spirit eventually wore down the determined Dragons during crucial moments of the game and eventually it took it’s toll as the PNG Muruks added key goals and scoreboard pressure with the game on the line, running away easy victors by 22 points. It was a well deserved victory by the PNG Muruks, who after becoming the Division 2 Asian Champions in 2018, are now universally recognised as the Asian Champions in their first year of top flight Asian football!
PNG Muruks 5.6 (36) vs Hong Kong Dragons 2.2 (14)
Infinity Division 1 Finals Standings
PNG Muruks Infinity Division 1 Asian Champions
Hong Kong Dragons Runners-Up
Indonesian Volcanoes 3rd Place
Singapore Wombats 4th Place
Malaysian Warriors 5th Place
Philippine Eagles 6th Place