KOTA KINABALU: The Premier League has not even started, but the Rhinos have won their first battle albeit off the field.
Yesterday, Rahman Zakaria said they are not setting any specific target for the Rhinos for the new season that kicks off on Friday.
The words from the Rhinos’ team manager will certainly give the team less playing pressure and freedom, without having to worry too much about what lies ahead.
The Rhinos, who will be making their fourth consecutive season in the Premier League, will take on unknown SDM Kepala Batas of Penang in the opener at the Likas Stadium.
Nevertheless Rahman stressed that their main priority will still be to try to win every game … home or away.
“We have a new-look side where almost half of the squad are new faces. Furthermore, most of them are still young and so it is too early for us to give them any specific target.
“Having said that we must try to win as many matches as possible, and see where we stand at the end of the season,” said Rahman.
Due to the economic recession and with sponsors hard to come by, the Sabah FA is tightening its purse and has opted to go for an almost all-local side with only two local imports in the squad of 24 players.
Negeri Sembilan-born Wong Sai Kong, who is into his second season with the Rhinos, is one of the two local imports that will don the Rhinos’ colours for the new season with the other being Mohd Fariss Azlan from Kedah.
Fariss played for Kuala Muda Naza last season.
“We have a new-look squad, which I would say is rather young … we only have two players who are above 30 years old and I believe we have a good blend of experienced and young players in the team,” said Rahman, referring to Billyton Vun Ket Ming and Wong Sai Kong.
Billy turns 31 on February 18, while Wong will be 31 on September 19.
Rezuan Khan Aman, who turns 30 on September 1, will also be a veteran in the squad. The rest of the players are below 30 years old with most of them between 18-25 years old.
“We have brought in several youngsters such as Leopold Alphonso, Selyvister Saini as well as Alto Linus into the squad.
“We believe that only by grooming our very own home talents, can we build a strong foundation for the near future.
“Besides these three players, we also have players such as Radzi Md Hussin, Hardy Charles Parsi, Julamri Muhammad, Azrul Ejati Damsah and our three goalkeepers Irwan Jamil, Harold John and Mohd Salawi Ahmad Jasad. These players are all under 25 years old and can play for several more years to come.
“We have enough experienced players … Wong, Fariss, Zainizam Marjan and Rosdin Wasli to guide the team.
“Players such as Gasili Pangalot, Mafry Balang as well as Rezuan could also help the team.
“Even though Radzi, Julamri Muhammad and Azrul Ejati Damsah are still young, but they have been in the team for a few years. So I hope this time around they could help the team.
At the same time, Rahman is also seeking full support from the fans.
“About 99 per cent of the squad are Sabahans, and so let us give them 100 per cent support. I just hope the fans can be part of this team in their quest to seek glory,” Rahman said.
“Whether they are up or down we must rally behind the team because we cannot argue that fans are the important ingredient in the success of any team in this world,” said Rahman.