Abu Dhabi Harlequins twice had to settle for being bridesmaids last season as Dubai Exiles took top honours in Gulf rugby.
Quins retained their Dubai Sevens title in December to pick up the first piece of silverware of the season but then had to settle for second place in both the West Asia Championship and UAE Premiership as Exiles took a seat back at Middle East rugby’s top table.
Quins pushed Exiles all the way in the battle for Premiership and Asia glory and are determined to go one better this season.
Mike McFarlane’s men drew first blood earlier this month when they lifted the Asia Rugby Western Clubs Champions League title, and McFarlane and his men open their campaign at Dubai Hurricanes tomorrow.
“I’m more than satisfied with pre-season. The lads are hungry and there’s a real competition for places,” said McFarlane.
“The standard of the squad throughout in its depth is exciting for the rest of the season. Training and game days have been intense.
“These boys are super coachable, not just super talented, and that’s exciting for me. The whole changing room is full of winners.”
Quins and Exiles played out an exciting 23-23 draw in the Champions League meeting, an indicator that the rivalry that blew up last season could be even closer this year.
McFarlane’s team won the title by virtue of a bigger win over Sri Lankans Kandy than Jacque Benade’s champions.
Canes, meanwhile, have a new skipper in Dave Knight, who is relishing such a tough fixture to open the new campaign.
“We’ve got Quins first so the schedule could have been kinder but it works both ways,” said the UAE international ahead of the season opener at The Sevens.
“They’re the team to beat having just won the Asia competition. On the other hand it might be good to play them early. It will let us know where we’re at and give us an idea of what we need to work on to get where we want to be by the end of the season.”
Canes signed a partnership with their Super Rugby namesake in the summer, while a new coaching structure has been set up, giving Canes a lot of stability.
Pre-season has gone well and Knight admits he is “itching” to get back out on the field.
“We can’t wait to get back playing, it’s been a long break. Everyone’s really up for it,” he said.
“We’ve got a few players still away from Eid but I think you’ll see our team getting stronger as the season goes on. We’re not as strong as we could be but pre-season has been really good so we’ll see.
“We have got stronger with the coaching structure which has helped a lot and, again, is something that will be more beneficial as the season goes on.”