The largest man in footy in Japan, AFL Asia committeeman and President of the Osaka Dingoes, Matt Gale, previews this Saturday’s AFL Japan Top League Grand Final between the Senshu Powers and the R246 Lions at the Yokohama Country & Athletic Club, kicking off from 4:20pm this Saturday 25th November.
History will be created in Yokohama this Saturday when the Senshu Powers and the R246 Lions do battle, as neither side has ever tasted the ultimate glory of a premiership and more importantly it’s the first time two Japanese teams have fought it out in an AFL Japan Top League Grand Final.
AFL has been played in Japan ever since the Essendon vs. Hawthorn Exhibition Game back in 1987, with the development and participation of local Japanese players always being a major feature of AFL within Japan. Approximately 85% of all adult participants are made up of aspiring Japanese footballers, with the majority of them coming through the ranks of one of the three University-based teams.
The current competition format – The AFL Japan Top League has been in existence since 2006, with the Tokyo Goannas dominating over the 11 year period with 8 premierships. The Tokyo Bays Suns (predominantly Japanese players) were scintillating winning back to back premierships in 2013-14, whilst the Osaka Dingoes won their only premiership back in 2011.
Well, things are about to change at this year’s 2017 AFL Japan Top League Grand Final on Saturday as the Senshu Powers prepare to take on the R246 Lions in a historic all Japanese affair, albeit the R246 Lions having one ex-pat player. Neither team has ever tasted premiership glory, which is fantastic for the growth of the game and also highlights that local development is at an all-time high, with the Japan Samurais achieving their best result at this year’s IC17, winning 3 matches, whilst also sustaining 2 loses.
Both sides had impressive victories in their do-or-die Semi Finals in the lead-up to the Grand Final with the Senshu Powers narrowly defeating their University arch-rivals the Komazawa Magpies by a goal, whilst the R246 Lions came up against the Tokyo Goannas, who were chasing their third straight premiership and easily accounted for the ex-pat outfit, winning by a comfortable 44 points.
Looking at both sides on paper the University-based Senshu Powers, who have only been defeated once during the season have 11 Japan Samurais representatives on their books and potentially 15 players, who could start on the field in the 9-a-side clash, whilst the Kanagawa prefecture-based R246 Lions have plenty of class and a great blend of youth and experience in their starting line-up, but their depth can fall away beyond that. The Senshu Powers have fielded a 2 forwards–3 midfielders–4 defenders structured line-up for the majority of the season, whereas the R246 Lions usually back themselves in with the traditional 3-3-3 set-up.
The Senshu Powers have been magnificent in front of the big sticks throughout the season with their Japan Samurais two-pronged attack of Shoki Mukodaka (37 goals, equal leading goalkicker in the competition) and Kyo Nakagawa (22 goals, 3rd leading goalkicker) proving to be a handful for opposition sides, with either of them being able to kick a match-winning bag of goals on their day. It is expected that the only ex-pat taking the field in Dean Dowey will be given the role of restricting Mukodaka on the day. The Senshu Powers have a powerful midfield led by Japan Samurai ruckman Kento Takahashi and prolific midfielders Hiroto Murayama and Sohei Tada. The Senshu Powers also have Japan Samurais / AFL Asia Lions player Shota Horiguchi, who is the most improved player in the competition and will provide plenty of explosive run and drive out of defence. The Senshu Powers are a consistent and evenly balanced side, who love to share the ball and are capable of winning a game within the blink of an eyelid. Adding to that, their youthfulness, team spirit and experience in big matches, they cannot be underestimated going into the big dance. Having lost in last year’s AFL Japan Top League Grand Final against the Tokyo Goannas, the Senshu Powers will be looking at creating a breakthrough triumph come Saturday.
The R246 Lions, who were established in 2011, are superbly led by the Japan Samurais Captain Michito Sakaki, who was this year awarded the IC17 Division 2 Player of the Tournament and named in the IC17 Team of the Year. Sakaki, is the best Asian born footballer in Asia and a highly credentialed player, who has been awarded numerous accolades during his outstanding career, including winning the AFL Japan Top League Best & Fairest Award ‘Peter Wilson Medal’ on 5 occasions. Much will rest on the shoulders of the midfield champion, however his Japan Samurais teammate Tatsuya Nasu’s match-up on Sohei Tada from the Powers could be one of the key match-ups on the day with intensity and hunger for the contest. The R246 Lions definitely have a big decision to make about where exactly do they play Japanese Samurai Yuta Toyoshima? The versatile Toyoshima was swung to full forward in the Semi-Final against the Tokyo Goannas and proved to be the match-winner kicking 6 majors. Japan Samurais veteran Jun Sekiguchi (ruck/forward) and Dean Dowey (defence) will also be expected to play key roles throughout the match. With many veterans entering the twilight of their careers, it’s a case of now or potentially never for the R246 Lions and they will be absolutely desperate to make the most out of this exciting opportunity.
This Grand Final will go down to the wire, with either team capable of winning on the day. My head tells me that the Senshu Powers will have too much firepower up forward and lift the premiership cup, however, my heart tells me that Michito Sakaki will play out of his skin and get his team over the line in a nail-biter – R246 Lions to win their 1st ever premiership by 7 points!
The action will get underway at the Yokohama Country & Athletic Club from 4:20pm.