Bahrain coach Tonkin aims for playoffs

Matt Jones - Editor 09:11 23/09/2016
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Henry Paul believes he has arrived at Jebel Ali Dragons at an ideal time and claims there’s a real hunger to improve after two barren years.

The headline acquisition of the summer has been Dragons luring former dual code international Paul to the Emirates – and now he stands on the edge of his competitive debut as the West Asia Premiership begins away at what is likely to be a much-improved Bahrain.

The former Wigan Warriors, Bradford Bulls and Gloucester star says he would like to provide an instant return to success for a club who previously won the treble two years running – though he has warned everyone associated with Dragons not to expect miracles.

“I think we’ll relish it more because of the tough times, there is an aspect of that,” he said ahead of Friday’s game.

“You’d like to walk in and win but it’s going to be pretty hard in such a short time. We’re not professional, we only train two nights a week and sometimes guys can only get to one, so it’s working with that you’ve got, trying to mould it into my system and how can we improve on last year.

“I recognise Dragons are well known out here but haven’t had the success in recent years. It’s a good time to come into the club.”

Paul takes Dragons to Bahrain, who also have a new coach in former Cardiff University and Llandovery chief Louie Tonkin.

The 33-year-old Welshman has brought in a raft of new players who he has previously coached, and he is targeting a top-four finish and claiming an end-of-season play-off berth.

“Everyone’s really excited about a big game on Friday. Hopefully we’ll have a big crowd with a double header, so it should be a great night at Bahrain,” said Tonkin, who arrived in July after leaving Pontypool by mutual consent.

“We’ve been working hard all summer developing the existing squad into a new structure and a new way of playing, and we’ve obviously had some new guys coming into the mix too, as well as some good walk-ins too, players that have come from other clubs in the Gulf.”

After beginning last season’s WAC in January with a win over reigning West Asia Cup champions Abu Dhabi Saracens, Bahrain tailed off towards the end of the campaign to finish sixth when injuries and absences too their toll.

Tonkin doesn’t believe that will be a problem this year though with the squad now boasting depth.

“Unfortunately we’ve had some injuries, so we’re missing some key guys this week, but we’re still confident,” he said.

“I think a few years ago this would have been a problem but we’ve developed some really good depth this summer and have a competitive side out on Friday. We know it’s going to be a really good test and we’re looking forward to it.”

Tonkin is targeting the playoffs and knows winning at home – starting with Dragons – will be vital.

“Winning home games will be crucial, as is winning the first game,” he said.

“Building momentum and hopefully the outcome will be what we want it to be. First and foremost we want to be competitive in all fixtures.

“We dropped off the end of last season due to squad depth so we want to be competitive on all fronts. Top four and playoff contention is the aim but all we’re focused on now is winning our first home game and building some momentum.”

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