Jebel Ali Dragons are determined to underline their return to form this season by securing the West Asia Premiership title on Friday.
The Dragons, last champions in 2014, are involved in a three-way battle for the crown alongside holders Abu Dhabi Harlequins and Bahrain. Going into the campaign’s final round, the Dragons sit at the summit, one point ahead of Harlequins.
Bahrain, whom the league leaders travel to this weekend, lay a point further back.
Dragons coach Henry Paul acknowledged his team have in front a difficult task, as they travel to take on a talented Bahrain side knowing victory may not be enough. On Friday, Harlequins make the trip to Dubai Eagles.
“There’s a lot of excitement,” said Paul, whose squad is uncertain given some players have encountered issues regarding flights and visas. “We’ve had a really good season and obviously want to go to Bahrain with our best squad.
“But I’m sure whatever team we put out will try our best, because I’m certain we'll have to not only win the game, but win it with a bonus point to take out the West Asia league.”
Paul said the visa situation could go "down to the wire", but downplayed the problem, insisting instead his squad has enough depth to cope with absentees. In December, the Dragons finished runners-up in the Gulf Men's League at the Dubai Rugby Sevens.
“We don’t use the visa situation as an excuse - it’s just not ideal preparation going into this type of game, a potentially title-winning match,” Paul said. “We’ve massive respect for Bahrain, we know the talent they have. We’re not going to underestimate them and we know the difficulty of what we have to do. We’re under no illusions.
“We’ve known that for the past few weeks what we’ve needed to do to get into this position and the boys have done that. It doesn’t come any easier now we have to go over there to play.”
Asked how important it would be for the Dragons to end four years without the trophy, Paul added: “We’ve got some experienced guys who have won the title in the past. When we entered the season that was our main goal.
“To win the West Asia league would be fantastic. The boys have really driven it. We’ve a great group of sponsors, so would be great to represent them and bring home some trophies. That’s what you play the season for."
Harlequins represent the Dragons’ chief threat. The Abu Dhabi side, who last year won five trophies, have been hampered this season by a crippling injury-list, but to their credit arrive in the Premiership finale with a realistic chance of retaining the title.
“I always bang on about culture, but it really has been the bedrock of everything we’ve achieved this year,” said coach Mike McFarlane, who counts 47 different players used in the first team this season.
“As I said to our chairman, it’s bordering on miraculous what we’ve managed to achieve given the circumstances throughout the season. We’ve won the West Asia Champions League, we’re in the UAE Cup final and, fingers crossed, we can nail something this weekend.
“To be under that pressure almost week-in, week-out has taken a fair hit, but fair play to the boys. All the lads that have come in, they’ve done a great job and we find ourselves in good stead for all the trophies this season.
“We’re confident going into every single game no matter what squad we’ve assembled this year. We’ve created that mentality that we are Quins, we’ve created great expectations of ourselves and nothing but a win is good enough. We drive that ourselves and that’s very much player-led as much as coach-lead. The boys will expect nothing else out of each other come the weekend.”
McFarlane understands the Harlequins' bid to remain champions is not entirely in their own hands, but is convinced his team will give everything against Eagles to ensure they do not hand the Premiership to the Dragons.
“It’s a big game for us,” he said. “Being the last Premiership game, a lot rides on it. But we’ll take it as any other game and we’ll just look to put in a performance with all 22 lads, as it has been all season.
“A lot of hard work’s gone in. It’s a long old season and the boys know it’s down to the business end now. There will be no one turning up on Friday giving anything less than 100 per cent. We’ll be going out there to get the job done and hopefully Bahrain can do us a favour over there.”