The club triumphed 27-26 against Jebel Ali Dragons 2nds in a memorable Conference Top 6 final in March – in which they wiped out an early 16-0 deficit – but the club had said prior to the game and afterwards that it would take time to decide whether or not they would take the daunting step up.
Wanderers chairman Shane Breen said confirmed this week that the club will not make the step up and instead remain in the Conference for the 2016/17 season and build their squad in the hope of entering the top echelon of UAE rugby in the ensuing years.
“We’re staying in the conference next year,” revealed Breen.
“We felt that whilst we developed significantly last season the step up to the Premiership would be too much at this stage and we wanted to develop our squad further before making any move.
“It’s definitely something that we’re working towards though.”
Although it would have been easy to get swept up in the euphoria of an epic triumph against Dragons, Sharjah need only look at Al Ain Amblers for an example of just how wide the chasm is from Conference to Premiership.
Amblers swept all before them in the Conference two seasons ago, going the entire season unbeaten and steamrollering opponents as they barged their way into the top flight.However, Andrew Rouvi’s men lost all 10 games on their return to the big time. In fact, their only victory in 18 games laast season came in a 34-23 win against Muscat in the West Asia Championship in February.
One of the keys to survival is depth. Amblers were hit by a lack of discipline, with their early fixtures littered with yellow cards.
Injuries also hit hard and the fact that Sharjah don’t have a second team was a key factor in their decision.
“We would hate to have gone up and come crashing back down again. We need a 2nd XV first,” added Breen.
“The strategy for this season will be to build on what we achieved last year, recruiting more players in order to create more depth.”
The new Conference campaign is a little under two months away and Breen admits things will largely stay the same at the club.
Nic Walters, the Welshman who led them to the 2015/16 title, will remain as head coach.
Former UAE international Jonny Greenwood returns to the playing ranks and will take over the captaincy from Luke Banks.
Training will be held at The Sevens on Tuesday nights. Sharjah open up the defence of their title on September 16 at home to Dubai Sharks.
Of the 12-strong squad selected for the Johor Sevens by Apollo Perelini, 10 are from the Garden City club.
The UAE face an uphill task in Johor on the country’s south coast, with Perelini’s men facing Thailand, Japan and the Philippines in Group B on Saturday.
They struggled in the ARSS 12 months ago when Roelof Kotze’s team finished eighth of eight teams across the tournament’s two legs, following five straight defeats in the second leg in Hong Kong. Hopes are high, however, in the camp that the Al Ain chemistry will yield success.
“Ten of the boys are from Al Ain so that should set us up well as we all know each other, and we’re looking forward to it,” said Emirates Aviation University student Tomasi Tirikula, 19.
“We’re excited because we have a really good team. We definitely want to win. We have more chemistry because it’s basically an Al Ain Amblers team.”
His optimism was backed up by clubmate Jerry Kilicanasau.
“Lots of the boys know each other,” said the 18-year-old vice captain, who hopes the UAE can put the disappointment of 2015 behind them.
“The only way is up after disappointment of last year. I hope for better this year and taking the UAE back up, the target is the top six.”
The team, skippered by Devante Steele, who gained senior UAE sevens honours earlier this year, began training last month and leave for Malaysia in the early hours of Thursday morning.
The Englishman said he had enjoyed his two years as skipper but is determined to have just as much of an impact without wearing the captain’s armband.
This season promises to be full of excitement across the UAE Premiership and West Asia Premiership, with the likes of former New Zealand and England dual code star Henry Paul taking over at Dubai neighbours Jebel Ali Dragons.
Canes themselves have just announced a partnership with Super Rugby behemoths the Hurricanes, and Perry is predicting Knight will lead the club to success.
“Two years was an enjoyable shift,” Perry said of relinquishing the captaincy. “There was a lot of administration behind the scenes and work is getting busier so I thought now was the time to hand it in. It was thoroughly enjoyable and I’m honored to have done it, but I think Knighty will enjoy it and take it up a level.”
Perry was part of Apollo Perelini’s UAE side that made history during May’s Asia Rugby Championship, earning promotion to Division I and winning successive games for the first time in the country’s history.
As well as exciting times for his club, Perry admits he also hopes to be back on next season’s ARC tour.
“I will still be playing with the goal of having a big season [with Canes] and finishing well on hopefully another UAE tour,” he added.