Peter Shalulile knows that they are a tricky for teams to get past. Photo: Samuel Shivambu/BackpagePix
In praising Highlands Park and talking about how difficult they are to break down, especially in Tembisa, most coaches describe them as awkward.

Peter Shalulile laughs at this tag, but in a way he embodies this awkwardness.

The Lions of the North striker always looks like he is playing with shorts that are a size too big. He rolls them up and troubles teams with his unorthodox approach. He looks like he is straining himself when he opens his bag of tricks but when a good move comes through, he does it effortlessly even though it’s not aesthetically pleasing.

That’s Highlands in a nutshell. They are not aesthetically pleasing but they do a lot of good, so much so that they finished in the top eight in their first season back in the PSL and are now in the MTN8 semi-finals - taking on Polokwane City at Peter Mokaba Stadium in the first leg today (3pm kick-off).

“People always say (that we are an awkward team),” Shalulile says. “We stick to our game plan, stick to what we’re good at. We don’t care what people say about us. It’s always hard to play against Highlands Park because we are the fittest team.

“It’s not easy to break us down. It all starts at training, putting in the effort, working hard and not giving up. That’s what makes us fit.”

Simone Conley, the club’s fitness trainer, is responsible for that while coach Owen da Gama instils humility and emphasises putting in an honest shift. Highlands isn’t made up of stars, just genuine hard workers who leave everything on the field.

“It’s part of the growing process of the team,” Da Gama said. “We just want to be a little bit better than last year. We paid our school fees last year and we made a lot of mistakes. As long as we can grow a little bit, I think that we’ll be on the right track. It’s a process.

“In three to four years’ time we will be in a position where we can say, ‘yes we can now challenge for everything’. But we’re just in our second season, four games into it. It’s still early days.

“Yes, we want to show growth but the growth will be mirrored by what we will achieve. If we can achieve a little bit better than what we achieved last year, we’re in the right direction.

While Highlands are “awkward”, Rise and Shine are a technically good team who do the basics well. Their football doesn’t scream, but it grabs your attention. Despite working with a coach who is still finding his feet in the country, Zlatko Krmpotic is continuing where Jozef Vukusic left off.

“We’ve got to try and not concede any goals,” Da Gama said. “Maybe try and get an away goal as an advantage.

“They ended in a much better position than us last season and they are much higher than us this season. They are very consistent.”

Independent on Saturday