With one month to go until kick-off of the enlarged Predator League for Gauteng and North West clubs, historic Highveld outfit Alberton are preparing for a centenary season to remember.
Alberton, founded in 1912, have produced a long line of big names over the past century, including former Transvaal captain Corrie Pypers and ex-Springbok lock and current Golden Lions president Kevin de Klerk.
Alberton had a season to forget in 2011 when they finished at the bottom end of the Golden Lions’ Pirates Grand Challenge log, but the club is looking forward to the new season with optimism.
“Just reaching 100 is an achievement on its own,” said new head coach Maree Bester. “So-called ‘open’ clubs struggle to survive financially and there are fewer players that commit themselves than is the case at universities. It’s been an uphill battle these past few years but credit must go to the previous managements, sponsors and players who stuck it out.”
Bester, the former Springbok Sevens selector, was coaching at Kroonstad this time last year but said he was attracted by the challenge of restoring Alberton to its former glory. “The winds of change blew through the club during the off-season and we now have a new chairman, Duppie du Plessis, who is the driving force behind the ‘new’ Alberton, as well as renovated fields and facilities,” he said. “In addition we have (Lions players) Derick Minnie and Alwyn Hollenbach who are members and who lend their support wherever they can.”
Alberton will field three senior and two junior teams this season, as well as their traditional Golden Oldie ‘Madalas’ side. Their thriving junior academy has more than 260 registered players between the ages of six and 18. “They are the pride and joy of the Alberton community,” said Bester.
Alberton will be one of eight Golden Lions clubs that will take part in the revamped and highly-anticipated Predator 1 League, which kicks off on April 20 and continues through to the end of August.
The competition’s aim is to raise the standard of club rugby in the northern provinces, and is essentially a super league for the top Lions, Valke and Leopards clubs, with the Blue Bulls and Mpumalanga possibly joining in 2013.
Eight Lions clubs and six from the Valke will be joined by two Leopards sides in the 16-team Predator 1 league. A further 17 clubs will contest the second-tier Predator 2 team.
“There may be clubs from three provinces playing in the same league, but when two Lions clubs play each other they will still also be playing for our own Pirates Grand Challenge,” said Golden Lions Community Rugby Manager Pieter Visser. “It’s the same for the Valke. The likes of Springs or Brakpan will be fighting it out to win the Predator but they’ll also be involved in a struggle to see who wins their Peregrine Super League.”
Predator 1 League 2012 (16 teams playing single round):
Golden Lions – Alberton, Pirates, Raiders, Randfontein, Roodepoort, Union, UJ, Wits.
Valke – Benoni, Boksburg, Brakpan, NWU Vaal, Springs, Vereeniging.
Leopards – NWU-Pukke, Rustenburg Impala.
Predator 2 League 2012 (17 teams playing single round):
Golden Lions – Diggers, Eldoronians, Germiston Simmer, Harlequins, Jhb Police, Khosa, Soweto, Wanderers, Wes Wits.
Valke – East Rand Police, Elsburg, Kempton Wolves, Nigel, Sasolburg, VUT.
Leopards – Klerksdorp, Vaal Reefs.
Outside of the Predator leagues, a further 14 Lions clubs, including Alexandra, Kagiso, Lenasia and Orange Farm will play in the province’s third-tier President’s League. Another six clubs will contest the Valke third league, while seven clubs will be involved in the Leopards’ Neser A competition – effectively the third tier – and a further eight in the fourth-league Jaap Steyn league.
“We have 68 clubs playing within the Lions, Leopards and Valke structures and the challenge is now to raise the standard of play at every level of competition, be it in the Predator or one of the domestic leagues that feed into the Predator,” said Visser.
With the league season approaching in many provinces, a number of pre-season cross-border competitions are at the play-off stage.
The Super 12 tournament, sponsored by the Eastern Cape government and featuring six clubs each from Border and Eastern Province, reaches its climax on Saturday when Despatch play defending champions Port Elizabeth Police in an all-EP final, to be held at the neutral venue of Uitenhage’s Central Ground. Port Elizabeth Harlequins and East London Police will contest the third-place play-off.
In last week’s semi-finals, Despatch, coached by former Springbok lock Adri Geldenhuys, beat Harlequins 45-22, while PE Police won the battle of the Bobbies when they held out for a 30-18 win over Border’s only play-off representative.
In the Free State Uitdaagbeker, contested by the top Cheetahs and Griffons club sides, Welkom Rovers will host the final against Bloemfontein Police. Rovers beat fellow Griffons First Division side Henneman 42-18 in last weekend’s semi-finals, while the Bobbies beat Crusaders 32-25 in the Bloem derby.
It’s semi-final time in the annual Assupol Super Club Series, featuring 16 sides from the Blue Bulls, Golden Lions, Leopards, Mpumalanga and Valke.
Pretoria Police, runners-up in last year’s Blue Bulls Carlton League, look the team to beat after they notched up their third consecutive half-century in a 50-13 win over Witbank Ferro’s. Police will host surprise package Middelburg, after the Mpumalanga Super League champions edged Silver Valke.
In the other semi-final, Valke heavyweights Brakpan play fellow Carlton League outfit Centurion after the two sides saw off Noordelikes of Limpopo and Vaal Reefs respectively.
In the Boland Premier League, newcomers Vredenburg made it two from two when they beat Saldanha Bay 28-18 in a West Coast derby that attracted an estimated 10,000 spectators. There were also wins for Villagers Worcester, Robertson as well as defending champions Roses United, who beat Wellington by a single point to register their first win of the season.
In the SWD Premier League, Evergreens remain at the top of the table after their fourth win in a row, 36-0 over newly-promoted All Blacks. Bridgton remain the only other unbeaten team after their 20-17 victory over third-placed Crusaders.