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Self-belief Neptunes’ X-factor as they are crowned kings

ALEX VELLA takes a look back at the 2016 waterpolo season during which Neptunes, San Ġiljan and Marsaxlokk secured the major summer honours

Neptunes Grimaldi and San Ġiljan Salini Resort kept a grip on the principal summer honours as the Reds were crowned unbeaten kings of Maltese waterpolo while the Saints claimed the knock-out prize.

Many were baffled by Neptunes’ success when they unexpectedly landed the plum prize to cement their name deep and big in the annals of waterpolo in recent years.

They may not have always ripped through their opponents but very often they put them on the ropes with their tactical adroitness.

Despite a skin-deep squad, their growing self-belief – their X-Factor – was eventually turned into great relief.

According to their captain Niki Lanzon, Neptunes were the most consistent side.

“We had great teamwork and showed discipline in all our games,” he said.

“Our coaches deserve a lot of praise for what we achieved.”

Their honours’ readings since the decade began are unequalled, having won the league, the knock-out and the winter title six, three and twice respectively for a total of 11 out of 21 available honours.

They had the ideal game-changers in iconic brothers Steve and Jordan Camilleri, the ageless Lanzon and Romanian Cosmin Radu. That backbone was completed by goalkeeper Alan Borg Cole.

For sheer skill and steel in their spines, these players were unmatched.

The ever-improving Timmy Agius and precocious youngsters Jeremy Abela and Miguel Zammit fitted well under the tutelage of tactician Zoran Maslovar, an expert in man-management who was assisted by Igor Martinovic.

The occasional insertion of their tailenders did not affect the fluidity of the team.

The title was theirs after they steered their vessel triumphantly into the first of two final ports of call, against Sliema and then again against San Ġiljan

The Saints looked good enough to make it a championship encore. However,  their seasoned players, Matthew and Dino Zammit, Boris Vapenski, Aurelien Cousin, Peter Borg, Paul Fava and Clint Mercieca, complemented by the prodigious Andreas Galea-Ben Plumpton duo plus Keith Galea, ran aground.

A 15-5 first round loss at the hands of Neptunes was followed by two more emphatic defeats, 10-6 and 17-11 against their neighbours. Hence their capitulation.

At least, more summer silverware was not elusive as they deservedly beat Neptunes 12-10 after extra time in the knock-out final – their eighth honour in this competition – to add to the President’s Cup.

A sluggish Sliema Betsson seemed a square peg in a round hole. They fell much short of what was expected of them despite having a long squad. In a season which had the influential John Soler calling it a day after a glowing career lasting over two decades, the Blues imploded.

At the lower end of the table, the young Sirens Ritter Sport came out tops when ousting a competitive but inconsistent Valletta McDonald’s for fourth place.

Bottom side Exiles Jetfreight could not keep up the pace and their only consolation after winning one league match was keeping their Premier Division status.

In the lower-tier competitions, Marsaxlokk Fischer, steered by Ian Azzopardi, sealed a memorable season with a double, winning the league with maximum points from 12 matches.

Marsascala Nutrition Empire won the Sports Journalists’ Cup.

In the junior categories, San Ġiljan won the U-20 and U-17 leagues, Neptunes, who maintained their record of never missing at least one honour since 1989, this time securing the U-15 title, Sirens and Sliema who won the U-13 and the women’s double, respectively.

Generally, it was a very good season as regards refereeing and competition organisation, in line with the national teams’ performances when participating in friendly and competitive tournaments this year and the ASA’s work in sync with LEN.

Top scorers

S. Camilleri 45 goals; S. Mora 42; M. Vukicevic 40; B. Vapenski 39; C. Radu/D. Kholod 37.

Note: Camilleri, Radu, Vapenski and Mora scored in every match.

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