Ranchi: Defending champions Ranchi Rhinos will have to come up with something special to beat table-toppers Jaypee Punjab Warriors in the Hockey India League (HIL) semifinals here Saturday.
The Warriors -- led by star Australian forward Jamie Dwyer -- have staged a remarkable turnaround after having finished fourth among five teams in the inaugural HIL last year. This time around, they did not lose a single game after losing the tournament opener against Delhi Waveriders, collecting 40 points from 10 games including seven wins and a couple of draws.
It was only Wednesday that Warriors edged out hosts Rhinos 3-2 at the Morabadi Astroturf Hockey Stadium here. Both teams battled out fiercely with some umpiring errors, increasing the intensity of the game.
Reflecting on Warriors' stellar show this season, coach Barry Dancer said: “I think we have improved with every game and are a much better team now while entering the crucial stage of the league. The players are excited about the semifinal and are looking forward to the challenge of playing in front of a passionate and hockey loving Ranchi crowd.”
The home team will aim to avenge their double defeat against the Punjab franchise. The Rhinos head into the knock-outs as an inconsistent outfit having lost five of their 10 matches.
An indulgent home crowd should work to their advantage but it would be tough to get a favourable result unless the Rhinos find a way to keep Punjab ace drag-flicker Sandeep Singh out of play as much as possible.
Sandeep, who was the leading goal-scorer last year for the Mumbai Magicians, has remained in the lead this year too -- for the Warriors this time -- with nine goals.