University hosts international stars at inaugural Sepak Takraw tournament

James Sproston pounces for the ball in a dramatic takraw tussle | Image: Hannah Linaker

After weeks of hype and speculation, Newcastle’s inaugural sepak takraw competition got underway on the 16th of April. The hotly anticipated tournament included six of the best teams Newcastle had to offer, and three all-Malaysian visiting sides.

Having printed the match day programmes, stocked up on sausage rolls, and set up the extra-springy nets, the tournament got underway on the Saturday. First up was the Regu competition: three-a-side matches with the first two sets to 21, and the tiebreak set (if necessary) to 15.

“When the two sides met in the final group fixture, there were some fireworks”

Even though Group 1 had only four teams, it was clear that there were two top class sides. Both Newcastle University A, featuring President John Haswell alongside Vice President Jack White and Boltonian Ben Mather, and the visiting Manchester side displayed their quality in their opening fixtures against Tiki Takraw and Balai Malaysia A.

When the two sides met in the final group fixture, there were some fireworks. Some world-class takraw accompanied physical prowess from both sides. After taking one set each, the match was decided in a tiebreak. Despite being within touching distance throughout the set, the Mancunians were able to steal it in a 16-14 win. Both teams could be optimistic about the semi-finals though.

In the Group of Death, surprise package Pak Men, consisting of Newcastle’s Seb Masters and Toby Arup, took two unprecedented victories back-to-back. Looking like favourites to progress through to the knockout stage alongside Newcastle University B, they faced latecomers Balai Malaysia B to seal their place in the semis. Unfortunately the Malaysians proved to be far better than their respective ‘A’ team, and cruised past the locals.

“Berocca Juniors had promised their fans a performance”

However the real attention in Group 2 was at the other end of the table. Berocca Juniors and The Dreamers had disappointing results at the start of the day, so they were playing for nothing more than pride. With a strong social media presence, Berocca Juniors had promised their fans a performance, whilst the trash-talking from The Dreamers camp meant nothing but extreme embarrassment awaited them if they were defeated.

Berocca Juniors started with James “The Great Dane” Sproston in the tekong position, Harry “The Kanagroo” Van Der Hoek slotting in as feeder, and Jack “The Chunder Dragon” Cryer as the Juniors’ killer, whilst Dreamers captain Tom Woollons called upon Charlie Carr and Freddie Gollins to give his team the height advantage.

Both teams felt the pressure in the first set, with Dreamers narrowly winning 21-19. In the second BJSTC’s cultured approach was overcome by The Dreamers’ physical, aggressive method of takraw. Dreamers played to their strengths and deservedly sealed 4th place in the group.

“Both teams felt the pressure in the first set, with Dreamers narrowly winning 21-19”

Once it was confirmed that Berocca Juniors had finished last in the group, takraw maestro Niall Nagar added that “I think the tournament went well considering it’s our first time competing. We outdid ourselves seeing as we’d only trained together once as a team.”

On the Sunday, the Doubles Regu got underway, switching from a three to a two player format of the game. Presidents John Haswell and Jack Taylor teamed up to as Newcastle A; they faced Berocca A’s Niall Nagar and James Sproston. The match was one of the most thrilling of the tournament so far, with the Presidents emerging victorious after clinching the tie break set.

Two members of Newcastle University B, Mohamad Azni Bidin and Mohd Fadly Md Ahid, partnered up to compete as Croydon Road. As well as being favourites in the Regu, these two were fancied in the doubles as well. However their route to the final was no way near as simple as they predicted. After taking a 13-1 lead in the tie break set against Wooden Spooners, Charlie Carr and Freddie Gollins fought back to level at 14-14. Despite the comeback, Croydon held their nerve to win 16-14.

Croydon faced Jack Cryer and Harry Van Der Hoek’s Berocca B in the next round, after they had unexpectedly beaten Tom Manning and Luke Ellett of Brentford in their first round fixture. They managed to win in two sets to set up the finals against Durham London and Plynotts. Surprisingly it was Durham London who emerged as winners, as Ruzaidi Bin Ismail of Balai Malaysia B and Mohd Syazwan Md Rahim joined forces to devastating effect.

After lunch, the semi-finals of the Regu commenced. Newcastle University A were up first against Newcastle University B in the local derby. Since both teams knew each other inside out, it was a psychological test for both teams. As the bookies predicted, it was Newcastle University B that progressed, but it was no easy feat.

“Manchester still had their previous loss at the back of their minds”

In the other semi-final, Balai Malaysia B faced Group 1 winners Manchester. Having won every game in the group, and had Aja Hasrin firing on all cylinders, Manchester looked to be favourites. But this time the script wasn’t followed. Manchester regularly rotated their team but couldn’t find a winning formula as Balai Malaysia B caused yet another upset.

Before the final took place, the third place play-off between Newcastle University A and Manchester took place. Despite taking the win in the group, Manchester still had their previous loss at the back of their minds. They crumbled as John Haswell, Jack White and Ben Mather claimed the bronze medal in some style.

Buoyed by that victory, the home crowd were fully behind Newcastle University B in their quest to be the first ever victors of the tournament. Having beaten Balai Malaysia B in the group stages, and narrowly winning the first set, all looked to be going to plan. However, as is so common in this crazy sport, the game turned on its head and Ruzaidi Bin Ismail’s spikes seemed to be finding the right place every time.

Once they’d won the second set, Balai Malaysia B were full of confidence and were able to use the momentum to take the initiative in the third set. Besides a wobble after extending their lead to five points, they were able to hold their nerve throughout to give themselves the honour of lifting the trophy.

“the game turned on its head and Ruzaidi Bin Ismail’s spikes seemed to be finding the right place every time”

John Haswell was not only pleased with the way his team performed, but also the club as a whole. “Overall I’m delighted with how the tournament went. I think as a club we all did tremendously well to get everything together, from recruiting the teams to match day programmes and organising a meal for everyone in the evening.”

He added that he’s pleased how the sport has a secure future in the university, and hopefully in the UK. “I think the most successful aspect of the tournament is that I feel the members now realise they are part of something bigger. The final of our tournament has got over 2000 views from all over the world. We’re part of a growing sport and part of an enthusiastic takraw community. I hope that can serve as great motivation for current members and attract lots more people to get involved next year!”

“Every member of the club had an integral role in helping over the weekend”

Having distributed medals to the players, competitor and occasional official Niall Nagar said that “the tournament was a huge success, I’m so proud of everyone who helped. Every member of the club had an integral role in helping over the weekend.”

Indeed the tournament felt like the foundations of a big future for takraw in both Newcastle and wider in the UK. The success of this competition shouldn’t go unnoticed, and if the university do take notice, they have the opportunity to be national forerunners in the sport.

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