Stuart Quinn believes if Jebel Ali Dragons lift the West Asia Premiership title next weekend it will be a “Roy of the Rovers” type fairytale.
Dragons scaled new heights of UAE rugby when they won back-to-back trebles in 2012/13 and 2013/14 to cement themselves as the dominant force in the Emirates.
But they have fallen back in recent seasons and only began something of a resurgence when former England rugby union and New Zealand league star Henry Paul took charge in the summer of 2016.
Dragons roared back to something approaching their best last season, making the UAE Premiership final where they were beaten by Abu Dhabi Harlequins. But it is in 2017/18 where their growth can really be measured as they have gone toe to toe with Quins, Dubai Exiles and Bahrain in a thrilling four-way battle for silverware.
A 60-23 win over Dubai Hurricanes on Friday sent Dragons to the top of the table with one final round of Premiership fixtures remaining. They are two points above reigning champions Quins although Mike McFarlane’s men will still be favourites to retain their title next Friday as they travel to Dubai to face the league’s bottom side Eagles in their final fixture.
Dragons, meanwhile, also take flight but have an altogether more arduous test ahead of them as they must win in Bahrain. With Quins likely to win and record a maximum victory, McFarlane’s men should earn five points and go three clear – thus nothing but victory will do for Dragons.
“It’s all down to next week now. It’s basically a cup final to be crowned West Asia champions. It’s a great finale to the season,” said Dragons chairman Quinn.
“Roy of the Rovers stuff is needed next weekend but we are that kind of club I suppose.”
Victory to set up next week’s tantalising finale was secured in style at the Jebel Ali Centre of Excellence, although Quinn felt the margin of defeat was harsh on Hurricanes.
“The boys were very smart in their approach and did what was needed,” he said. “Nico Volovola was unplayable at times and James Love ran the game impeccably. Canes didn’t deserve the scoreline. It was a closer game than that.”
UAE international prop Paul Hart has been with Dragons for eight years so has been part of the good times and bad, and he praised the impact of coaches Jonny MacDonald and Andy Buist in the absence of Paul – who is away helping friend and former Wales international Kingsley Jones coaching Canada at the Americas Rugby Championship, although he will be back for the crucial Bahrain clash.
“Huge praise needs to go to Andy and Jonny for leading Henry Paul’s absence over the last three weeks,” said Hart.
“We have scored 196 points in the last three games so thanks to some brilliant coaching.
“We are very pleased to beat a very competitive Canes team and also get a bonus point to keep our title chase alive. In my eight years here we have always had close battles with the Canes, so to score 60 points shows the class we have individually and form we are on collectively.”
Results – Thursday
Abu Dhabi Harlequins 80 Abu Dhabi Saracens 0
Results – Friday
Dubai Eagles 8 Bahrain 54
Jebel Ali Dragons 60 Dubai Hurricanes 23
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