JOHANNESBURG - Even with the National First Division title wrapped up with three games to go, Thanda Royal Zulu promise to finish the campaign in the same way they won the championship to return to the Absa Premiership.

Thanda booked their return to the top division with a 2-1 home win over Stellenbosch FC at the Umhlathuze Sports Complex near Richards Bay earlier this week. That was their 15th win in a season in which they've lost just once, and coach Roger Sikhakhane sees no reason why they should relax now.

“As professionals we have to respect (the game) and do the things the same as we did until now. We’ve still got three games to play and we will have the same approach. We will still perform and train the team the same way. I don’t think we’ll have a soft spot for anyone or undermine any team,” said the coach earnestly.

That seriousness is evidenced in Sikhakhane’s demeanour. He generally dons a formal coat on match days, and is professionalism personified.

After being carried aloft by his championship-winning team, and briefly sharing the glory with his charges, the former Chippa United coach was back in business mode.

After eight years in the First Division, since their demotion, Thanda secured promotion one season after they were almost relegated to the third tier. The key to that turn-around was simply preparation.

“The most important thing is to start a team very well in pre-season. Then you know where you are going to be at the end. We had a good pre-season,” said Sikhakhane.

He said it was too soon to talk about personnel issues. Thanda relied largely on a home-grown squad, with most players from KwaZulu-Natal, and no foreigners. However that was just how it worked out, said the coach, who added he was open to considering any players as long as they met the standards.

“It’s not about local, but if you have the players that you believe will do the job then it’s fine. If you believe it’ll work for you then you stick with it,” said Sikhakhane of the squad he rebuilt after the brush with relegation the previous term.

“Last season Thanda had about three or four coaches before me. When you come into that situation you ask yourself what the other coaches did here. There were lots of upside-down things at the club. I had to save the club from relegation and see what would work in the next season.

“It was a risk (to take the job) but if you’re a man enough and believe in yourself you can put yourself in that position.”

Although the coach was reluctant to discuss the future team plans, Thanda will likely see several players return to their parent clubs.

Among them are Mhlengi Cele and Khotso Malope. The former is the club’s leading scorer with 16 goals, and is second in the league’s top-scorers’ list behind Sedwyn George of Royal Eagles. He returns to Chippa United.

Midfielder Malope, scorer of one of the goals against Stellenbosch, also completes his loan spell in Richards Bay at the end of the season, and returns to Kaizer Chiefs.

Thanda visit relegation-threatened Cape Town All Stars tomorrow, host FC Cape Town in their penultimate match, and finish the campaign with a provincial derby against Real Kings.

Saturday Star

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