Cooler weather heralds 2012 competition
Cooler than usual temperatures will herald the 2012 Winter League.
This out-of-season competition, again sponsored by Bank of Valletta, and this year in its 18th edition (the 2005 championship was not held), will as usual serve as a dress rehearsal to the traditional summer fare, with the preparatory build-up element replacing the higher-octane atmosphere reserved for the hotter months.
The teams’ level of preparation through physical work-outs will be gauged in the first weeks. From the first matches, starting today, until the third week in April, during which there will be a 17-day Easter recess, the competition comprises 28 round-robin matches, followed by seven, possibly eight, play-offs until the first week of May.
The fixtures as originally listed were recently revised, with the two matches scheduled for Sundays over the first five weeks being shifted to Fridays and Saturdays.
This means that there will be one match on Friday and three on Saturday. After March 31, the league will resume with four midweek matches on April 17 and 18, followed by another Friday/Saturday (April 20 and 21) four-match programme to bring the round-robin series to an end.
The play-offs to determine the final placings will start on April 28 and possibly end on May 8 if the championship match is extended to three encounters.
Of the eight contestants, the ASA Under-17 team will again be playing out of competition, but with a view to having the players’ progress monitored as they prepare for the Euro Junior Championship in September 2013. The other teams will be Exiles, Marsascala, Neptunes, San Ġiljan, Sirens, Sliema and Valletta.
Most of these will be looking to parade some new units in their squads, including signings from other clubs as well as younger faces upgraded from their junior strings, a normal practice in the Winter League.
The most notable players to move towards the end of last year were Clint Mercieca, who has joined Neptunes from Sirens, and Matthew Pisani who was transferred to San Ġiljan from Neptunes.
It remains to be seen what the initial impact of these players as well as that of others will be on their new teams’ game-plans.
This early stage of the year may not be so revealing in this respect but as weeks go by the contestants hope that their recruits and the youngsters drafted into the side will prove to be reliable additions.
The first match today, starting at 8 p.m., will be between Sirens, now coached by Joe Caruana Dingli, and the ASA selection.
The St Paul’s Bay team, dependant on budding players who carried off the U-19 league and cup double last year, will have to be at their best against the selection team, probably also having in their ranks a number of Sirens players.
San Ġiljan and Valletta will open tomorrow’s programme at 6 p.m.
The Saints, the 1995 winners, will entertain hopes that this competition will be the harbinger of a fruitful season, while Valletta will pin their aspirations on an encouraging campaign leading to better harvests than those of last year when they made a welcome comeback to local waterpolo.
Sliema, winners of this competition on six occasions, will face Exiles at 7.15 p.m., in a match which should provide the Blues with a positive start to what they hope will be another successful winter league trek, the fourth in a row for them.
Their opponents, who will be guided by new coach Aurelien Cousin, went through a bright patch in 2011, only to implode in the latter part of the summer season.
Tomorrow’s last match at 8.30 p.m. will be between Neptunes and Marsascala.
The Balluta Bay thoroughbreds, winners of the first ever winter league in 1994, and a team that eventually landed this honour seven times in all, should have a cantering outing against the southerners, a side made up of several youngsters.
As usual, this pre-summer competition should offer an adequate tuning-in platform for all participating teams, with waterpolo enthusiasts relishing a keen winter campaign, leading up to an exhilarating summer season.
Today: 8 p.m. Sirens vs ASA U-17.
Tomorrow: 6 p.m. San Ġiljan vs Valletta; 7.15 p.m. Sliema vs Exiles; 8.30 p.m. Neptunes vs Marsascala.