KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia Sports School (MSS), finalists for the overall title last year have sent a clear signal to hot favourites Telekom Pahang and Tenaga Nasional that the ninth edition of the MHF-Milo-NSC-Admiral will not be a two-horse race this year.
In their opening match of the league, the MSS team defeated Tenaga 2-1 and put themselves firmly in contention for one of the two titles at stake in the competition.
Last year, Tenaga and Telekom Pahang were relentless in the preliminary round, winning their groups in convincing manner. Telekom also captured the overall title as well.
This year, the two had been expected to dominate again but the emergence of MSS comes as a fresh breath of air. It will certainly motivate the other teams to play better and try for an upset.
The Sports School defeated Tenaga 2-1, a win that also marked the coming of age of forward Tengku Ahmad Tajuddin.
The Perlis-born player, who scored both goals for MSS, has the natural instinct for being in the right place at the right time but what is more apparent is his ability to take on defenders and change his pace on the run. There is no question that he can be groomed into a top notch forward.
He is also in the national Under-19 team and one of those players identified for the next National Juniors squad. Hopefully, his two-goal exploit in the opening match is just a sample of what lies ahead for him this year.
MSS team manager Suhaimi Sun Abdullah said the win was just the start of their good run.
“I only can say that the team will get better with each game and will improve as they go along in all aspects. We played to instructions for the win and this was a pleasing aspect of the match. There is still a lot of room for improvements,'' he added.
Another coach, S. Chandran, from Yayasan Negri Sembilan also echoed the same sentiments when he said every match would see the teams getting better.
“You can see that every team is well prepared and that the fight will be much closer this year. The matches are well spaced and I think we can expect quality performance from all. We had a good outing with a 1-1 draw with MSS Terengganu. They have a good side and very talented. I will not be surprised at seeing them making a bid for a semi-final berth,'' he said after the visit to Kuala Terengganu.
The YNS-MSS Terengganu match was the only tie in the Division One to end up in a draw.
After the first weekend, the table toppers are MPK-Olak, who defeated Anderson-XYBase 1-0 at home in Klang and then travelled up- north to beat Srii Aroma-PISC 6-2.
They now lead with six points after two matches and will take on defending champions Telekom Pahang next in Kuantan. That is a match which will show if they have the material to be among the top teams this year.
It must be remembered that before the merger with Klang MC (MPK), Olak were the overall champions four times from 1997-2000 and won the double in 1998 and 1999.
Thus, they cannot be taken lightly at all and Telekom Pahang will do well to take them seriously.
In Division Two, Malacca MC are the favourites and they began their campaign with a 6-0 drubbing of Synergy Hockey Club.
The current leaders are SM Datuk Taha from Gemencheh with four points after winning one and drawing the other match. But that could change this weekend when the Malacca side play two matches.
The Malacca team are home to MSS KL on Friday and then take on Sultan Abu Bakar College on Sunday. They should win both the matches.
It's only the first week and the season is still young but the first round of matches served to show that no match would be easy and that the figth for the title may go right to the end of the season.