Last year they came from nowhere to lift their first title in over a decade – now Dubai Hurricanes head into the Dubai Rugby Sevens aware everyone knows who they are.
Having been a middling team for the last five years, Canes took everyone by surprise last December when they toppled Dubai Sevens specialists Abu Dhabi Harlequins, triumphing 24-14 to lift the Gulf Men’s League title to end an 11-year drought.
So long ago had their last triumph been, The Sevens Stadium – where they shone on pitch one in front of a packed crowd – hadn’t even been built yet.
That 2007 victory – also their first Dubai Sevens title – had come the final year the tournament was held at the old home of rivals and city neighbours Exiles’ Al Awir ground.
Now coach Mike Wernham knows his side head into this year’s tournament with a target on their backs.
“It’ll be different this time going from chasers to the chased,” said Wernham, who admits the needle among local teams has already started.
“A lot of opposition have been telling us it’s ours to lose and using mind games, we’re just trying to stay grounded and reminding the lads how tough sevens can be.
“We had three goals for the season and winning the Sevens was one of them.
“We’ve got great memories of 2018. We’re defending champions which does change the mindset a little bit.
“We had a good squad last year and without wanting to build ourselves up to be shot down we do have a quality squad this time too. Selection was incredibly tough.
“We’re not thinking it’s going to be an easy ride but we’re very confident that, with a quality squad, we will improve.”
You’d expect the champions to head into the Sevens with confidence. But as their own victory a year ago proved, anything can happen in sevens rugby, said Wernham.
“Anyone that knows sevens will tell you there’s no favourites, all it takes is the bounce of the ball and you’re seven points down,” he added.
“So we just have to control our controllables, efforts, workrate, intensity and structures and try to get the boys going. We like to think we’re in a good position so far and we’re really excited about the challenge ahead.
“We’re playing in an unbelievable facility, there’s no other tournament like it in the world in terms of local leagues playing alongside the major event, so we’re incredibly excited.”
Tries from ex-Jebel Ali Dragons centre Saki Naisau, Joe Riley, Lewis Anderson and Boris Finck – plus two Finck conversions – proved enough to send Canes to victory against Mike McFarlane’s Quins a year ago.
Naisau, Anderson and Finck are again part of Canes’ 12-man squad that will line up alongside West Asia Premiership champions Bahrain, 2017 Sevens champions Dubai Exiles and Dubai Tigers 2 in Pool A. In Pool B Jebel Ali Dragons face Quins, Dubai Knights Eagles and Tigers 1.
The Gulf Men’s League kicks off at 6.40pm on Thursday evening.