Jebel Ali Dragons coach Henry Paul heaped praise on his side after they captured the West Asia Premiership title on Friday.
The Dragons ended Bahrain’s 14-month unbeaten home record to triumph 36-32, a victory that included an all-important bonus point. It proved decisive in securing top spot from defending champions Abu Dhabi Harlequins, who finished a solitary point off the summit. The win ensured the Dragons were crowned West Asia champions for the first time in four years.
Paul conceded he had not expected to glean the five points from Bahrain, but paid tribute to his side’s desire and determination. He singled out assistant coaches Jonny Macdonald and Andy Buist for leading the Dragons while he was away recently working with the Canada national team, but described the season’s success as very much a collective effort.
“It’s been led by the players,” Paul said. “Jonny and Andy have been amazing, the senior players have been incredible. I’m really, really proud. I can’t speak highly enough of everyone involved in the club.
“We wouldn’t have a club if it wasn’t for our sponsors, so Hamish Russell at Hesco has been fantastic. We had some players missing for the trip to Bahrain, not the complete squad I would’ve liked to have picked, but the guys who stepped up were unbelievable, guys who hadn’t really featured in our team. But they relished the opportunity and grabbed it with both hands. I’m really thankful to those guys, too. It's a fantastic achievement.”
Paul said the title win had much to do with the resolve shown during the Dragons’ last four fixtures. They took bonus points from each, coming through a typically tough test against the Dubai Hurricanes in their penultimate match. They will now have a week off before facing Bahrain again in the West Asia Cup.
“Last year was tough,” Paul said. “But this year, the Exiles have got a great team, Abu Dhabi Quins have a great team, Hurricanes are always competitive against us, Bahrain are such a good team as well. So we’ve had a lot of battles this year. Everyone’s just played well at the right time, and we got a bit of luck as well.
“But the other teams have been great. I’ve had really, really nice phone calls from a couple of coaches around the league, recognising what the team have done. I really respect a lot of the guys here in the league. We’re all in the same boat in terms of getting players. It’s an amateur league and we really ask a lot from the boys.
“Winning the league, being the best team over the course of a season, and winning it by a single point, says a lot about our consistency and a lot about the boys’ desire and commitment - how they’ve turned up week-in, week-out. They’ve been rewarded for it, which they’ve fully deserved.”