JOHANNESBURG - The Premier Hockey League (PHL) will come to an emphatic end with the 2017 playoffs scheduled for on Monday after a few surprising changes to the top of the ladder in this year’s edition.
It was a weather-affected final day of round-robin matches at the Randburg astro on Sunday with thunderstorms delaying some of the matches in the afternoon.
Defending women’s champions, the Blyde River Bunters, suffered their first defeat of the tournament with the Orange River Rafters claiming a convincing 3-0 victory.
The Bunters had their playoff berth secured before the start of the match against last year’s wooden spoonists, who recovered well from early setbacks in the tournament.
“We didn’t play well today so we didn’t deserve the win. Credit to the Rafters - they definitely deserved it,” said Bunters captain Nicolene Terblanche.
Sulette Damons, Jackie Scheepers and Chane Hartel found the back of the box to secure a rematch against the defending champions in Monday's semi-finals.
“It feels great and gives us a lot of confidence going into the semis,” Damons said.
“Everyone just played freely and did what they needed to do and that’s in the end what gave us the victory. We kept fighting and moved the ball more and everyone just kept believing.”
The Rafters were helped into the playoffs after the South African Under-21 team, playing as the Namaqualand Daisies, won a 3-1 shootout battle against the Madikwe Rangers.
The match between the Daisies and the Rangers went straight to a shootout thanks to the weather.
In the other women’s tournament semi-final the Daisies will come up against the St Lucia Lakers after their 2-10 shootout victory over the Wineland Wings.
In the men’s tournament defending champions Maropeng Cavemen will have another stab at the title where they will face fellow 2016 finalists, the Addo Elephants.
The Caveman will be difficult to stop after suffering a solitary loss against the Garden Route Gazelles on the opening weekend.
They were at the top of their game on Sunday, beating the Mapungubwe Mambas 2-0 courtesy of goals to Chad Futcher and Cerezo Comerasamy.
“It was hugely important to top the group and go into the semis with some confidence,” said Cavemen coach Mark Sanders.
“There are no easy games in the next round but the team coming in fourth is under a bit more pressure than the team finishing second or third so we’re happy to fight from the top of the log.”
The Mambas will face off against the Dragons, who suffered a 4-2 defeat to the Garden Route Gazelles in a straight-to-shootout match.