2016/17 edition of the Dialog Club Rugby League concluded with pre-tournament favourites Kandy SC clinching the title for the third successive year. Although coming into the league as the firm favourites the hill country club faced stiff opposition from the other teams making it an interesting league.
Title defence by the Champions
With the acquisition of a few top national players Kandy looked like they would breeze past the rest of the teams in the league but were put in a difficult position when they lost two games in the first round ending up as the third placed team and had to make sure they win all their second round games. Lads from the hill capital were up to the task in the second round as they were a much settled outfit and retained the league title in the hills.
One of Kandy’s recent additions to their armor at the beginning of the season, Dhanushka Ranjan proved his mettle as probably the best finisher in the country at present clinching the highest try scorer award. Ranjan crossed the white wash 16 times during the season with his teammate Richard Dharmapala second on the list with 12 tries. With Nigel Ratwatte sidelined due to injury at the beginning of the season, former Dharmaraja full back Thilina Wijesinghe slotted into the #15 jersey brilliantly as he was reliable as the last line of defence and proved his ability as a reliable kicker accumulating 118 points with the boot. Coach Sean Wijesinghe has now successfully defended the league title having won in 2014/15 season as the Kandy SC skipper.
Unfortunate Park Club
Veteran coach Ronnie Ibrahim returned to club rugby with Havelocks Sports Club and had a memorable season ending up as the runners up of the league. The pink shirts did not have the luxury of a massive squad unlike the champions but managed to get the correct mix in their squad. Havelocks were title contenders up until the penultimate week of the league but surrendered the league to Kandy when they lost the game to Kandy at Havelock Park.
Dulaj Perera was the stand out performer for the Havies and proved himself as a valuable utility player. Perera was seen playing the roles of fly half, center, wing and full back and impressed regardless of what position he was handed in the team. He was also the league highest points scorer accumulating 172 points and had a terrific season with the boot.
Navy SC looked like they had everything that it takes to go all the way. Having managed to defeat Kandy SC in the first round Navy ended as the second placed team. Sailors started their second round strongly with victories in the first two weeks but were humiliated by Kandy Sports Club who posted 50 points against them. This game was the turning point for the sailors as they then lost to Army at home to end their title hopes and surrendered meekly to Havelocks in the final week.
All is not lost for the sailors as they have managed to secure some inspiring young talent for the future. One such notable addition to their set up is former C.W Kannagara school boy Lahiru Herath who slotted into the #13 Jersey very well and looked dangerous in attack and solid in defence.
The Longdon Place club ended up as the fourth placed team in the league but was the most disappointing outfit amongst the rest. With a squad of outstanding young talent with many having international experience with the national/junior national sides much was expected from this CR&FC team but they failed to make an impression having lost all six games to the top three teams. Red shirts were affected by a plethora of injuries sidelining many of their influential players and will have to look at better conditioning prior to the season. CR & FC relieved their coach Ben Mcdougle of his duties before the end of the season and will be on the lookout for a mentor who can mold the talented pool they have into a champion outfit.
Tarinda Ratwatte was the stand out performer for CR having carried his good form from the Asian 7s series to the club league but missed out on the majority of the second round due to an injury suffered in the Kandy SC game. Having started the season in his pet position fly half, Ratwatte was moved to outside center where he was dangerous as he received more space and became the playmaker out wide.
Air force were determined to finish the season in the top four but had to be satisfied with a 5th place finish. Their crowning glory came early in the first round when they managed to do the unthinkable and defeat the strong Kandy team. The airmen coached by Leonard De Zilwa played a thrilling brand of rugby looking to attack at every given opportunity but seemed to lack endurance in order to execute effectively.
Gayantha Iddamalgoda led the airmen well throughout the season. Royalist Ashok Vijeykumar made the switch to the big league impressively with Air Force and the performance of youngsters in the likes of Soorya Krishan and Rumesh Ramdas are indication that rugby at Air Force is heading in the right direction.
Sri Lanka Army was the most unfortunate team of the season from the first week of the league where they went down to CR&FC by a mere point. It was déjà vu for the soldiers against Navy as they succumbed to another one point defeat to the sailors. With the hardest working forwards Army showed great courage and discipline when in possession of the ball and controlled things well around the breakdowns. More creativity in the back department could add the X factor for the soldiers as they seemed to struggle in penetrating the opposition defence.
Former Army skipper and veteran prop Ashoka Jayalal was impressive for the soldiers throughout the campaign and showed what the new age front rowers are capable of. Jayala’s silky passing skills and the understating of the game made him a difficult customer for the opposition to handle and will inspire the youngster in the Army ranks. Ashan Bandara who occupied the #10 jersey was good with game management and will be an important cog in the wheel for the soldiers in the future.
After a major player exodus at the end of last season, Police Sports Club was anticipating a difficult 2016/17. Police struggled for consistency throughout their campaign having to change the player combinations almost every match. The cops were guilty of not capitalizing on golden opportunities to grab games by its neck and this was evident went they went down to CR& FC in the last minute having led throughout the game.
Lock forward Joel Perera was a standout player for the cops. He was solid in the set pieces and was a threat in attack making important runs around the park. Radeesha Senevirathne the smallest #8 of the league had a brilliant season despite his team only managing to secure a 7th place finish.
Rugby Tycoons of the past CH & FC was the only team without a single victory in the 2016/17 season. With difficulties in gathering up resources to compete against the other clubs in the league CH & FC became the whipping boys in the first round. However with the team starting to believe in each other and gelling as a unit they were more competitive in the second round although they do not have a victory under their belt to show for it.
A season that many predicted to be a one horse race turned on its head with three teams going neck to neck at one point and two teams in the title contention up until the penultimate week. It was a thoroughly enjoyable one and we eagerly await the Clifford Cup Knock out competition that promises some thrilling action.