An outsiders view of the PHL 2016

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For the past few weeks, I’ve watched South Africa’s first elite professional era hockey tournament through the lens of a camera,match by match, and I’ve formed some of my own opinions on the PHL 2016.

Unfortunately, I’ve yet to see a match live on Supersport because I’m always pitch-side capturing the action and, hopefully, the emotions of the players and team officials as their fortunes change with every bit of action. I assume, like most Supersport productions, the images portrayed are one of a slick operation with everything falling into place miraculously. The reality of live TV is a very different one in most instances. Supersport’s presenters and crew should be commended for their professionalism. From what I can see on the big screen and through George’s camera, the production is world class. (George is the cameraman nearest to where I take most photos since the stadium is positioned in such a way that lighting is a real pain in the ass most times of the day.)

There are two things that I’m concerned about. Firstly, the size of the crowds. I assume the PHL scrapped the ticket sales for entry to the stadium on the first weekend when it became evident that attendances didn’t warrant the cost of ticket sales. Of course live broadcast means you can watch the games between the Springboks losing efforts in Australia and New Zealand and switch back and forth between the Premier League matches from England and the hockey. Only Supersport will know what the viewership numbers are like until they release them.

Could it be that traditional hockey fans don’t identify with the teams created to accommodate the four marquee players? How do you choose who you support? Would you support the Wineland Wings if you are from Cape Town, or the Maropeng Cavemen because you are from Gauteng? What if your ‘hockey hero’ plays for the Drakensberg Dragons or Addo Elephants? I understand the concept of having the national players spread over the different franchises and I appreciate that it prevents a potentially unfair advantage to any one team based on location but at the same time I don’t identify with any of the brands created.

The second thing that worries me is the apparent lack of depth in the woman’s game. I’m accustomed to watching the SA Women’s team thrash opponents. Just a few months ago SA was handing out 10 goal+ hidings to our continental opponents in the African Championships and here the ladies section has delivered only 47 goals after the round-robin section (18 matches) compared to 71 in the men’s section. Strikes from penalty corners are similar but open play goals are vastly different.

Are our ladies so much better at defending? I don’t have any of the stats on hand to say they better defenders or lesser goal-scorers but to a layman like myself, the skills aren’t as evident from the players not in the national setup.

The U21’s are off to a World Cup in Chile in a few weeks and have lost 5 of their six matches! In the fith place play-off game they deservedly beat a Rafters team struck by injuries and scored twice, bringing their tournament tally to three goals. Some of these ladies are the future of the SA national team but appear out of their depth against their more experienced opposition.

By contrast, the Golden Gate Gladiators, essentially the men’s u21 team are looking like a cohesive unit that has many games under their belt. The team finished the log section in third place on equal points with the Cavemen, who then beat them in the semi-final on Saturday.

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2016 PHL men’s section league table

Interestingly, Ignatius Malgraff lead the goalscoring table at this point with 7 of the Elephants 15 goals, while Hykes, Kimfley and Pautz each had 2 goals before the knock-out games.

I suppose stats mean nothing if you’re having fun, right? I’m looking forward to the finals today and most importantly I’m looking forward to the top 2 teams in each section battle it out to see who comes out on top and grabs the 50k in prize money.

In a few years time, people might ask where were you when the PHL started and I will be able to say I was there, for every minute of every match!

Come back soon, we’ll be loading all the images from Finals weekend this week for your viewing pleasure!

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