Early leaders in the PHL

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Golden Gate Gladiators' Amkelwe Letuka zooms past Maropeng Cavemen' Ricky West

The Gazelles and Bunters are looking ominous

 The Garden Route Gazelles and the Blyde River Bunters each put their hand up to be the main contenders of the inaugural Premier Hockey League with victories that were different both in style and substance.

The Bunters rose to the top of the table courtesy of a win over the off-colour SA Under-21 side, campaigning in this tournament as the Namaqualand Daisies, while the Gazelles outlasted there opponents for their win.

Both teams won 3-0, but the Bunters game was a simple case of putting away opponents who are uncertain of themselves and unaccostomed to the competition at this level. The Gazelles put in a defensive masterclass. They not only outlasted a Mapungubwe Mambas side bristling with attacking intent but they defeated them against the odds.

There was only one team in the first quarter, with the Mambas signalling their intentions by camping in the Gazelles 25 and earning no less than four short corners in the first five minutes.

Keeper Richard Curtis was the hero as he thwarted the Mambas at every turn when they had managed to get past his defense. When they did get sticks on the ball, the Gazelles, led by the attacking prowess of Lloyd Norris-Jones, were as clinical as they were lethal.

Twice Norris-Jones picked up the ball in his own half after a Mambas move had broken down to run all the way in for sensational solo efforts either side of Lyndon Fredericks’ goal in the third quarter.  The bonus point win, their second in the competition, takes the Gazelles to the top of the men’s log on eight points despite their dissapointing defeat against the Golden Gate Gladiators in their opening game.

Steve Evans’s men are two points ahead of another impressive team, the unbeaten Maropeng Cavemen, who are on six points after an epic comeback against the Gladiators.

Earlier the Bunters had barely broken a sweat in the stifling Randburg heat in beating the Daisies 3-0. While the Daisies posed a threat, and missed their chances, they weren’t as secure at the back and were simply picked off by the Bunters, who scored through Kaydee Miller, Charne Hill and Lauren Nina. The bonus points win means the Bunters are still unbeaten and top the table after winning all three of their games.

Another team that is quietly serving notice in the tournament is the hard as nails Cavemen, who came back from 2-0 down against the SA Under-21, playing in their guise as the Gladiators here. With both sides previously unbeaten until yesterday, somebody’s unbeaten record was on the line. At halftime it looked as though it was the Cavemen who would leave with their first defeat after the Gladiators led by 2-0, thanks to Nqobile Ntuli and Khumo Mokale.

In the second half Cameron McKay pulled one back for the Cavemen, before a controversial effort by Jarryd Jones meant they had equalised. The Gladiators were upset that they’d heard the umpire’s whistle and stopped playing, which allowed Jones his free shot on goal as he’d had no such inclination…

View: All the photos from the Premier Hockey League

Jacques Bleeker flicked the winner in from a short corner and the Cavemen keep their 100% record going into the next round.

The Wineland Wings are struggling to score and wound up in their second shootout in a week. Playing in their second shootout, also the tournament’s second, after going down 3-1 to the Blyde River Bunters last weekend, the Wings repeated the trick with a 2-1 defeat this time.

The two teams were tied at one-all at fulltime after a tense game which never quite spilled over into a spectacle. The Wings had been first on the board after Robyn Johnson converted Heather McEwan’s great turn and run into the box. The Lakers equalised through Stephanie Baxter, whose sweetly struck short corner meant things would stay that way until the end of the game.

In the shootout, keepers Zimi Shange and Hanli Hattingh saved six of the nine shots, with Kelly Madsen and Jacinta Jubb scoring for the Lakers and McEwan for the Wings.

In the final game of the day the Madikwe Rangers took care of the Orange River Rafters 3-0 to go second on the women’s log on seven points with the bonus point, thanks to goals by Sylvia van Jaarsveld (two) and Lelethu Ndakisa.

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Wineland Wings’ Heather McEwan battles it out with St Lucia Lakers’ Stephanie Baxter

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Golden Gate Gladiators’ Amkelwe Letuka zooms past Maropeng Cavemen’ Ricky West

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