TODAY we look at two of the underdogs in the Courts Inter-district Championship —— Tavua and Savusavu.
Tavua will fancy their chances with Navua and Nadroga in their pool, besides the favourites Lautoka and Labasa.
It's tougher for Savusavu. They are up against Ba, Suva, Rewa and Nadi.
Twelve months ago, the Tavuans were raring to go at the National Stadium.
That's when we got to see a rising star who now plies his trade in New Zealand, Jone Salauneune.
Since the good old days of 1994 and '95 when they won the Fiji FACT and IDC respectively, they have struggled to make an impact in the top flight.
Youthful exuberance. In their squad of 22, they have over a dozen young players, mostly secondary school students. Nine of them are either 19 or under, including two 17-year-olds.
If their coaching staff can motivate them and get them in the right frame of mind with the self-belief that they can take on the best, these youngsters could come out firing.
They will be no lack of enthusiasm and energy.
The lack of experience. Varanava Lotu and Savenaca Nasara are the only players who have been around for a while.
With inexperience, once they concede a goal, it's likely they could hit the panic button.
It's important that they stay focused, organised and play to the coach's game plan and not get distracted in any way, be it by the big names in the opposition or by an early setback.
They won't make it out of pool play and could return home without a win but I am certain one or two of their youngsters will turn heads at Govind Park.
Many Savusavu fans would have been disappointed having their team being drawn in such a tough pool. However, look at the positives they could take out of this. Given they could face either Tailevu Naitasiri or Taveuni in the promotion/relegation series, pending the result of a protest and the Super 8 motion, a tough outing is what they needed in the lead-up to the showdown.
The team is still finding its feet in the big league but most of their players are not new to the surroundings.
They have experience. Pene Erenio, Epeli Deyama, Thomas Vulivuli, Roderick Kumar, Akuila Bulewa and Waisale Rasoki have been there before.
I have always been a big fan of Erenio's game and was surprised to see Navua let him go. His defensive qualities are second to none.
No defender in the country has his qualities, especially reading the opposition's foray forward. He reminds me of Epeli Rokoqica and Valerio Nasema in their prime.
They were too good at cutting off the opposition attack with timely interceptions and Erenio is equally good at that.
How and why Erenio did not make the Fiji team over the years baffles me? Watch him frustrate the big teams in this 'Pool of Death'.
The lack of quality finishers. Some of the ones they have are beyond their use-by dates.
Chances will be few and far between in such a tough pool, and the rare ones that pop up for the northerners will need to be dispatched.
That's where having a fully fit and pacey prolific scorer is important.
Watch them trouble Suva and Rewa if the sun is out on Friday and Saturday. It won't be easy for Suva but they should get away with three points but I see Savusavu getting something out of either the Rewa or Nadi game.