The draw for the 8th Manila International Cup has been released and its shaping up to be one of the most interesting in many years, with at least four teams going into the tournament believing they will take home the silverware.
It will be go right from the first bounce, with the first games of the day perhaps the most important for all contenders, with the Malaysian Warriors up against the Philippine Eagles in Pool A and the Hong Kong Dragons up against the Vietnam Swans in Pool B.
The Malaysian Warriors have had a great start to the 2015 AFL Asia season winning their first 3 games of the year. Big away victories against the Thailand Tigers (46 points) and the Vietnam Swans (29 points) were followed up with a resounding 56 point ANZAC Day win against arch rivals Jakarta Bintangs, with new recruit and former Richmond AFL player Tim Fleming booting 7.
While many in Kuala Lumpur will be dreaming of Asian success this year, comparing 12-a-side tournament games with full length home and away fixtures is like comparing Twenty 20 cricket with a Test. Since winning the 2012 Manila Cup, the Warriors have not made a final at either the Manila or AFL Asia Champs and the question is still out if they have what it takes to maintain focus and consistency across 5 games of footy in one day to win this year’s Manila, or even perhaps even their first ever AFL Asia Champs victory.
One thing is for sure, after their three games the Warriors will be a well organised, disciplined and fit squad that will ask questions of their opposition throughout the day through the influence of Fleming and other regular Warriors fixtures such as James Worland, Flannas, Jimmy Dribbles and others.
Reports from Manila also suggest the home team the Philippine Eagles will be coming into the tournament confident following strong turnouts at their regular PAFL Dingos vs Eurekas games. Evan Spargo has shown many top teams he can break a game open at any point and will be a key player that the Eagles need to fire if they are to seek revenge for their 2014 Cup loss to Hong Kong.
Of course 5-time Manila Cup winners Hong Kong Dragons will also be coming to their beloved Manila thinking about back to back Cups and will be looking to get off to a good start in their Pool B opener against the Swans. While the Dragons come with plenty of SCAFL 9-a-side footy under their belts, Bowski and his hounds have yet to play an AFL Asia League game since last year’s Champs Grand Final defeat to the Singapore Wombats but will be looking to get off to a good start to hopefully put some of those demons to bed.
The Swans on the other hand come to Manila in great shape, having had two good runs against quality opposition in the Warriors and Singapore Wombats, defeating the 2014 AFL Asian Champs by 41 points in an impressive performance at their recent ANZAC Friendship Match in Vung Tau.
The Swans have never won a trophy outside IndoChina but continue to improve every year, having now made three AFL Asian Champs semi finals but never cracking it into the big one. If the Swans want the confidence and belief to go a step further in Bangkok in October this year, making or even winning a Manila Cup Grand Final will be a prerequisite. Midfielders Mitch Hyde and Tom Doer have impressed in the Swans opening AFL Asia League games but they will need plenty of support and a healthy interchange bench if the Swans are to go all day and upset some of their more fancied opposition.
The Barbarians, a team made mostly of additional Eagles players, and Hong Kong’s second team the Darkside Dragons round out the pools.
It is shaping up to be a great weekend, with a Sportsmans night on Friday night featuring AFL legends Percy Jones, John Lord, Dale Weightman, Jim Jess & Simon Beasley.
Follow all the action from the Manila Cup on AFL Asia’s Twitter account here
Good luck to all participants!
Schedule (Click image for clear view):