Dave Knight is hoping Dubai Hurricanes can fly under the radar and surprise a few people this season with a semblance of a solid structure on and off the field at the club for the first time in quite some time.
Canes swept to first place in the UAE Premiership three years ago, winning four of their five games. It earned them a place in the Premiership final but there, at their home ground of The Sevens, they met a resurgent Abu Dhabi Harlequins who dished out a 39-19 beating.
It was an unfortunate sign of things to come for Canes, whose season unraveled after that. It’s a tumble that continued for the next two seasons too as coaches Ross Mills and James Ham have come and gone.
But with UAE international Knight returning for his second season as skipper and PE teacher director of rugby Mike Wernham, who replaced Ham midway through last season, feeling he now has more control, a calm seems to have settled over the club.
And Knight feels a corner could be turned in 2017/18.
“I think everyone seems to write us off,” said the flanker when asked if Canes can surprise opponents this term.
“At the end of the day we’ve shown we can compete on our day. Maybe we’re not consistent enough and it’s about getting consistency into our game. That’s what the best teams have, it’s what Quins have, Bahrain have.
“We don’t have the same funds and recruitment style as them but what we do have is a good coaching set-up, good facilities and good boys. So we hope to kick on. I’m positive but realistic also.”
With the game in the UAE growing and developing at an exponential rate, it’s vital every off-season that despite needing down time, clubs and players don’t take their eye off the ball, otherwise they risk getting left behind.
Canes have perhaps been guilty of that in previous years, but not this summer. Before taking to the training pitches at the start of August Wernham had cut his own summer holidays short to get cracking on a blueprint for the season ahead, with players starting gym sessions in early July in a bid to get a head-start on their opposition.
“Teams coming back earlier and earlier these days for pre-season and it’s getting more important,” added Knight.
“We started strength and conditioning in July and I thought that was early, but then Quins came back in June and Exiles too, so it is getting more and more to that level. There may be no break between games in a few years. But everyone’s been working hard.
“I think it’s just a bit more structured now (under Mike). It’s exciting. Things have been building since July so I’m just ready for it to start.”
After replacing UAE teammate Daniel Perry a year ago, the understated Knight is hoping to for more success in his second campaign as captain.
“We had a leadership meeting at the end of the season and everyone was like ‘yeah, we want Knighty to do it again’, so it was an easy decision for me to make,” added Knight.
“I don’t think we achieved what I wanted to last year. Bringing in Mike kind of steadied the ship and at the end of the season we started to get closer to the results we want. So now, hopefully, with a full pre-season under us we can kick on.”
Last season was always going to be a learning curve for Wernham. But with a solid pre-season complete and an opening day 28-13 victory over Abu Dhabi Saracens last weekend, he is looking forward to a full season with the club under his command.
He said: “This season in comparison to last we started with two losses. I personally thought we weren’t prepared as what we should have been from pre-season. This summer I cut short my summer holiday to make sure that wasn’t going to happen.
“There’s been some more firm words this summer and it may be the PE teacher inside of me, but the expectations and standards of a Canes player is clear, and the lads know what is acceptable and what’s not.
“When you come into a job halfway through, you’re already dealing with a full season of what’s been done in the past. Mindsets are hard to change.
“Last season I saw strengths and weaknesses but I didn’t want to change the world. We know we can be a good side. We’ve got new players, they’ve trained hard and I think we’re in a good place.”
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