Dominance, Drama, and Decisive Victories dominate opening day.

Dominance, Drama, and Decisive Victories dominate opening day.

4 Jul

6 Jul

Outdoor Hockey

Dominance, Drama, and Decisive Victories dominate opening day.

Sometimes you bump into a friend that you haven’t seen in a while. You start talking, and as if there had been no time apart, you carry on where you left off. This analogy is so apt for the Belgotex Elite Club Challenge as the 2024 tournament got underway in the same way the 2023 tournament concluded.

The 2023 champions Central were belligerent and took less than 120 seconds to open the scoring through SA Hockey captain Dayaan Cassiem. His goal was complemented by strikes from Reuben Sendzul and Michael Royden-Turner, giving the champions a 3-0 lead against the Kearsney lads. Central continued to press hard, much like Dricus du Plessis, and surged to an 8-goal lead with Sendzul completing a hat-trick. Kearsney managed a consolation through Guy Morgan, but it was too little too late for the local team.

In a tournament requiring a strong start, akin to Max Verstappen in any Formula One race, hosts Riverside did exactly that with a frenetic blitz to open an early 3-0 lead against MCC, with Jonty Robinson, Taylor Kelly-Stack, and Shaun Baker earning cheers. They extended it to 4-0 before a late MCC charge, but it was too little too late for the Johannesburg men.

Founding members looked as if they had a pre-game team talk from Rassie Erasmus, such was the focus in their eyes, and their performance matched the hype. Cameron Ryan’s brace was the highlight of a comfortable 5-0 victory over PHSOB, giving them the perfect start.

The pick of the opening day's men's games was undoubtedly the Southern Gauteng Derby between Beaulieu and Wanderers. These two teams know each other better than Taylor Swift fans know her dating history. Beaulieu struck first with a brilliant team move converted by Marvin Simons. Simons doubled the lead with a low strike 30 seconds into the second chukka, and the men in black looked more menacing than Will Smith in that movie. Although the two sides effectively canceled each other out, Wanderers pulled one back when Matt Poval fired home in the final quarter, setting up a tense finale. Beaulieu managed to hold on and seal a wonderful start.

In the women's tournament, it was a dominant performance from the defending champions WPCC, who smashed five unanswered goals past PHSOB. Brady Wiseman netted two from the penalty corner, while Rebecca Kaps, Ashleigh Thomas, and Anli Kotze combined to open up a start as perfect as Ernie Els' golf swing.

SA Junior World Cup star Malikah Hamza showcased her sublime goal-scoring skills, netting two for the hosts Riverside, complemented by goals from Wendy Snelling and Megan Coreejes. The Beaulieu ladies were unable to deal with the attacking threat and had to settle for a debut defeat.

Wanderers took on Phoenix with ambitions as lofty as Donald Trump’s but were unable to walk the talk, trailing early to Kriekie van Wyk’s workmanlike strike. SA legend Bernie Coston leveled matters with a lovely move. Phoenix re-established the lead, and van Wyk did it again. Although Wanderers reduced the lead to one goal at half-time through Marizen Marais, Phoenix showed the kind of death bowling the Proteas would have loved (too soon), winning the game 6-2.

The 2022 winners Crusaders were next up and professionally secured a victory over the Kearsney team. Sylvia van Jaarsveldt almost made it 1-0 in the opening minute for Crusaders, setting the tone for what was to come. Alex Kavanagh opened the scoring for Crusaders before van Jaarsveldt finished the counter-attack. Crusaders didn’t put the foot down but managed a 4-0 lead before allowing a late consolation goal for Kearsney, offering a gift like they were hosting the Oprah Winfrey show.

On Friday, it’s a double day of fixtures, and the identity of the finalists will be known. It’s elite speed, elite quality, and of course, the Elite Club Challenge.

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