The CTM Premier Hockey League reaches a climax this weekend with the top men’s and women’s teams battling it out in the play-offs today before culminating in the finals tomorrow in Randburg.
Defending women’s champions the Orange Free State Rafters are resounding favourites to walk away with the spoils finishing the group stage as the first team to have won all five games.
They go up against the Madikwe Rangers in the second semi-final where they will be looking to keep their hopes of a second consecutive title alive.
Rafters coach Shaun Hulley praised his relatively young side’s work ethic and the culture they have developed in a short period of time. “We have had a superb tournament and it’s been great to see the team fighting for each other,” Hulley said.
“We pride ourselves on the team ethic and culture we have developed. The players know that whether they have SA Hockey experience or are just a youngster breaking through, they all have an important role in the team and they have all done their part.”
The Madikwe Rangers will have to step it up to cause an upset after squeaking through to the semi-finals in their final group match of the tournament.
Former PHL champions Blyde River Bunters finished second on the log boasting 15 wins in 19 games over the three seasons to highlight their class.
Spearheaded by Proteas shot-stopper Phumelela Mbande, the Bunters will take on 2017 runners-up the St Lucia Lakers in the other semi-final.
The match will be a repeat of their last group-stage match where the Bunters came out on top last weekend.
In the men’s competition the Drakensberg Dragons topped the log after the group matches, winning four matches on the trot after suffering a first-round defeat against the Addo Elephants.
The Dragons will play against two-time champions Maropeng Cavemen, who will be looking for their third crown despite a topsy-turvy campaign.
“We haven’t had the best group stage but our goal was to get to the final four and we are here,” said Cavemen coach Mark Sanders.
“We know that in most of the games we have made mistakes, but we are ready for this weekend. The tournament starts now, and we look forward to defending our crown.”
The opening match today sees the Addo Elephants take on the Garden Route Gazelles for a place in the final.
The Addo Elephants won their first four matches of the campaign before stumbling at the final hurdle against the Gazelles.@ockertde