Both men’s and women’s hockey broke into new territory in Randburg in September 2016 as the inaugural Premier Hockey League began what most involved feel will be a revolution in the game in South Africa.
The Milo Maropeng Cavemen and the Nestle Pure Life Blyde River Bunters emerged triumphant on 25th September 2016 in gripping finals as the Department of Sport and Recreation backed event came to an end. Six men’s and six women’s teams, playing as franchises that are 100% owned by the South African Hockey Association (SAHA) after a draft system, played each other once in a league stage before the top four teams progressed to the semi-finals, followed by the grand finals.
“It was a definite success and something different for local hockey. To play with young and experienced players all in the same team and from all different provinces, was amazing. Nobody knew each other at first, but if you’re a top hockey player then you need to adapt. The same applies to having different coaches – a lot of our players had never played under coach Lindsey Wright before,” said the captain of the Nestle Pure Life Blyde River Bunters, Nicolene Terblanche, who is also the national women’s captain.
“The PHL was a great success, just ask any of the players and they’ll tell you they wish they were doing this for the last few years. It was well-organised and thanks to SuperSport, the players had the experience of playing on TV and being able to use the video referral system. The only time we’ve had that before has been in international hockey and not a lot of players get to do that. For 16-year-olds, this incredible tournament meant they learnt a lot,” Terblanche added.
“The first season has been really inspirational and a lot of people watched the TV coverage on SuperSport. The PHL is what hockey needs and it was exciting to see it on TV. I hope the tournament grows as it’s the foundation of our future hockey and an opportunity for the national selectors to see more players. Additionally, they got to see a lot of games at good intensity and pressure. It’s one of the best tournaments I’ve played in,” said the captain of the Milo Maropeng Cavemen, Rassie Pieterse.
The veteran Southern Gauteng goalkeeper has played all over the world and won many tournaments, but he said the sheer elation of some of the Cavemen team when they were handed their gold medals brought home another great benefit of the PHL.
“We had a good mix of experience and younger players that bring a lot of energy and that’s important too. For some of the guys from the smaller centres like Port Elizabeth, Bloemfontein, Stellenbosch, Pinetown and East London, it was the first time they’ve ever won a gold medal because they play for minnows. Hopefully they can take knowledge back to their clubs because now they’ve experienced what it takes to win a tournament,” Pieterse said.
Terblanche was a compelling leader of a very young Bunters side – with an average age of just 21 – and she was similarly inspirational off the field as she handed all the money from her three player of the match awards during the tournament to the fundraising efforts of the national U21 teams as they head off for their junior world cups in India and Chile.
“I’ve been in their shoes before and know that every cent helps, so I decided to donate all my winnings,” Terblanche humbly said.
With opportunities for top competition few and far between for South Africa’s leading players, Terblanche was eager for SAHA to persevere with the exciting PHL concept.
“I really hope this happens every year now. With no major international tournaments for us in 2016, it was absolutely not a nice year for the national players, but then the PHL came along. We all looked forward to it, it was so exciting and the community really got into the swing of it as well with all the posts on Facebook and other social media.
"By putting the PHL on TV, it made sure people were talking about it, whenever I went back to the office, my colleagues would ask me about the tournament. So it’s been very positive and I know the players that didn’t play this year are very jealous to miss out,” Terblanche said.