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THE Penang Sukma hockey team are making serious preparations to defend their title by undergoing an eight-day tour of Perth from this Sunday (Aug 12).

Chief coach Jiwa Mohan said Sukma has become an important fixture in Malaysian sports that many states are now leaving no stones unturned in their preparations for their Under-21 athletes.

“We’ll do our best. The Perth trip is our final preparation for Sukma. We want our boys to be exposed to high level competition,” said Jiwa.

“We’re going to play five games there, against the Perth Under-21 and some of their top clubs. They have one of the best leagues in the world.”

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Uthayan giving a pep talk to the Penang Sukma hockey players at USM astroturf today.

What pleases Jiwa most is that he finds a lot of positivity among the Penang people, especially the great support from parents and officials.

The spotlight will undoubtedly be on Penang, who after making it to eight semi-finals, finally landed a gold medal in the last Sukma in Sarawak in 2016.

It was, in a way, a mission accomplished for their coach Rajendran Balagurusamy, better known as Uncle Bob, who passed away due to cancer on July 25.

Jiwa, who took over as state chief coach last year, shares the same vision as Rajendran that success is always preceded by a lot of hard work.

“Winning is part of our goal. We want the team to be ambitious and yet remain humble,” said Jiwa, who is assisted by coaches like his brother Jivan, G. Uthayan and G. Lushyindaran.

“We’ve a benchmark. The fact that Penang usually qualify for the semis in every age group championship shows that we’re doing something right. I must say we’ve never run out of talents. We’ve been training continuously and developing the players.”

For the coming Sukma to be hosted by Perak next month, Penang are drawn in Group A together with Malacca, Johor, Sabah, Kuala Lumpur and Negri Sembilan. Last year’s silver medallists Perlis are in Group B together with hosts Perak, Sarawak, Selangor, Pahang, Terengganu and Kedah.

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The Penang Sukma players in a training session at USM astroturf under the watchful eyes of Uthayan.

Penang will be powered by three National Junior players, namely Muhammad Hafizuddin Zaidi, Amirul Hamizan and Muhammad Sulaiman Abdul Razak. Hafizuddin is currently of the most promising strikers in the country, while Amirul, who will represent Malaysia in the 2018 Summer Youth Olympic Games in Buenos Aires, Argentina on Oct 6-18, has a great potential as midfielder. For Sulamian, he is a very dedicated player who can go on to reach a higher level.

The defending champions have retained 10 players from the 2016 Sukma winning squad. They are Mohammad Alif Farhan, Tengku Ariff Haikal, Kamal Ridzuan, Muhammad Syazwan Rosli, Muhammad Solehuddin, Muhammad Faiz Danial, Muhammad Amirul Hamizan Azhar, Muhammad Hafizuddin Zaidi, Mohamed Muhammad Raimi Abdul Latif and Muhammad Sulaiman Abdul Razak.

As the Sukma draws nearer, Jiwa is keeping his fingers crossed that all his players will be injury free. He could vividly remember that in the last Sukma two years ago, the then captain Mohd Azwar had to miss the boat in the eleventh hour because of torn muscles.

“Well, I hope no such injury problems happen to us again. I want my team to take one match at a time and just do their best,” Jiwa said.

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Veran (left) and Muhamad Hakimi, who were dropped from the 2016 Penang Sukma hockey squad, have bounced back.

Uthayan, who put the players through the paces at Universiti Sains Malaysia today, singled out two players – forward V. Veran and defender Muhamad Hakimi Mohd Shah Himi – for not giving up despite being dropped from the 2016 Penang Sukma squad.

“They were really heartbroken when they were dropped from the team. You imagine their feelings when Penang team went on to win the gold medal. But they work hard to get back into the squad. They are role models.

“I’m confident of the Penang team doing well. The players who were in the 2016 winning squad will surely want to capture the title back to back.”

Source: Buletin Mutiara