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Reds chief savours ‘special’ 24th title

Neptunes Grimaldi and San Ġiljan will bring the Championship Pool to a close this evening.

Neptunes Grimaldi and San Ġiljan will bring the Championship Pool to a close this evening.

The National Pool will be painted in red and white this evening as Neptunes Grimaldi Lines celebrate their 24th league title when they complete their summer campaign with a Championship Pool match against deposed champions San Ġiljan Salini Resort who can’t finish higher than second.

The Balluta Bay Reds secured their sixth league title in the last seven years last week when they beat Sliema Betsson 14-9 to open an unassailable lead at the top of the standings.

Neptunes’ feat takes on added significance considering that they had to do without some of their former star players. However, wily coach Zoran Maslovar did well to bring the best out of his squad despite having to rely on a shorter bench compared to San Ġiljan.

Matthew Bonello, the Neptunes WPSC president, said the 2016 championship success was hard-earned but very special.

“At the start of the season, we never thought that we could become champions again as we lost key players like Clint Mercieca and Michele Stellini while young player Sean Xerri De Caro decided to quit the game altogether,” Bonello said.

“However, the decision to hire coach Igor Martinovic and focus all his attention on the youth team turned out to be a masterstroke.

“He worked closely with head coach Zoran Maslovar and together they brought the best out of the likes of Jeremy Abela and Miguel Zammit.

“Indeed, both youngsters contributed decisively to our challenge along with the established ones.

“This was a difficult championship to win because we were not the favourites but that makes our success even more special, I suppose.”

This summer, all teams in the national league fielded just one overseas player instead of the usual two. Bonello feels the move left a negative impact and the level of play was below that seen in previous seasons.

“In my opinion, the decision to have one foreigner in the water did not help to lift our game to the same standards that we had been accustomed to,” Bonello said.

“Most of the matches were played at a slow tempo and the spectators weren’t happy about it.

“All said, one has to admit that the decision to have one foreigner befitted the young players who were afforded more space to showcase their talent.”

Turning his sights to the future, Bonello said Maslovar had done a great job and, along with Martinovic, will be retained for another season.

Now, the Reds’ main goal will be to ensure that goal-getter Steve Camilleri signs a new contract.

“We want to make sure that Steve Camilleri stays with us,” Bonello said. “He came through the youth system at Neptunes and for us, he is one of the pillars of our team.

“We also intend to strengthen our squad as we want to present ourselves for the 2017 campaign with an even more competitive team.”

Meanwhile, today’s programme at the National Pool gets underway with the play-off between Marsaxlokk Fischer and Exiles Jetfreight for a place in the top flight next year.

Last week, Exiles recorded an emphatic 13-5 victory over Division One champions Marsaxlokk to open a 1-0 lead in the best-of-three series.

Playing today
Play-off (2): 18.15 Exiles Jetfreight vs Marsaxlokk Fischer.
Premier Division: 19.30 San Ġiljan Salini Resort vs Neptunes Grimaldi.

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