Sharjah Wanderers will get the chance to celebrate their 40th anniversary in style by trying to lift a second UAE Conference title in three seasons on Friday.
Wanderers won one of the most epic finals Gulf rugby has ever produced two years ago when they came from being 16 points adrift to slay Jebel Ali Dragons with a try beyond the 80th minute from Dave Bracken to claim a memorable 27-26 triumph.
After a barren defence of their Conference title in 2016/17, Sharjah have surged back into the final in 2017/18, where they take on Dubai Tigers at Dubai Sports City on Friday.
Sharjah chairman Shane Breen said: “We’re back in the final again which is fantastic, especially as it’s our 40th anniversary and the boys couldn’t be more excited. To top off the anniversary year with a trophy would be great, but there’s 80 minutes of rugby to get through first.”
Wanderers, one of the oldest clubs in the Gulf, celebrated their landmark 40th year at the start of the season.
But in Tigers – formerly Heartbeat Tigers – they will come up against one of the UAE’s newest clubs, formed only in 2014 by Shane Thornton.
After winning the Conference’s Bottom 5 final 12 months ago, Tigers have surged to the top of the second tier’s standings this season.
Judging by the 41 points both teams earned in a tightly-packed top of the table though – Tigers finished first by way of a better head to head – Friday’s final should be closely fought.
And despite having the years of experience and a recent trophy to their name, Sharjah are taking nothing for granted.
“Tigers and ourselves finished up first and second in the league so it’s going to be a great competitive game on Friday and we know they’ll be highly motivated to win,” said Breen, 31, whose family is originally from Norhtern Ireland but he has spent his entire life in the UAE.
“Tigers have proved this season they’re a serious team and have put in some big results. We got one over them in the first round and they beat us the last time we played so we’re pretty evenly matched.”
Although they have fared far better the season following the one immediately after their title triumph, it hasn’t been smooth sailing for Sharjah.
Breen added: “This season has tested the character of our squad in many ways. With lots of injuries, boys have had to step in and we’ve pulled off some great wins which has helped galvanise the team. We’re back to full strength this weekend and looking forward to taking to the field.”
Tigers and Wanderers kick-off at 15:00 at Dubai Sports City on Friday.
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