Star-studded Tampines are the favourites
Sundram knows he has to get his star-studded team to gel for title tilt
They are the team at the heart of what appears to be new life breathed into the Great Eastern-Yeo's S.League.
Tampines Rovers shook up the transfer market to lure former Liverpool and Arsenal star Jermaine Pennant and several LionsXII players to the Jurong West Stadium.
Not surprisingly, the Stags are the red-hot favourites to win the S.League title for the sixth time in history, but no one in V Sundramoorthy's camp feels that it's their divine right to be crowned champions in October.
Tampines will open their campaign with a home clash against Geylang International on Monday.
"We are being singled out as title favourites but, as cliched as it sounds, no one ever wins anything on paper," said 35-year-old veteran Noh Rahman.
"I see a lot of positives in training, players are adapting well, we're all happy to be in the team, but there is still a lot of hard work ahead to be able to play as a team.
"And, if we can do that, we're going to have a good - and fun - season."
Coach Sundram is acutely aware that he has a squad equipped to win trophies, and his challenge will be to work out the permutations and get the team to gel into a championship-winning outfit.
"Any player in the squad can be in the first team, and I'm not just being politically correct," said the former Singapore international.
"One of the hardest things to do is to be able to pick the right team every week.
"That and transferring what we do in training sessions onto the pitch in games will be the real challenge."
Tampines have also roped in former Sarawak, Perth Glory and Bangkok Glass forward Billy Mehmet, an acquisition Sundram believes could be the final piece in the jigsaw.
"We know that no team are going to roll over and give us three points," said Noh.
"In fact, I'm sure with all the attention that we're getting (from the media) that they will want to beat us even more.
"We will probably need a couple games to get a good understanding going but, yes, we are already working hard on that."
- Last season's finish: 2nd out of 10 teams
- TNP's prediction: Champions
- Key players in: Izwan Mahbud, Shahdan Sulaiman, Hafiz Abu Sujad (all LionsXII), Jermaine Pennant (free agent), Billy Mehmet (Sarawak FA, Malaysia)
- Key players out: Isa Halim (Geylang), Shaiful Esah (Warriors)
- Man to watch: Shahdan Sulaiman All eyes will be trained on former EPL winger Jermaine Pennant, but the key to Tampines' success can be found in their engine room at the feet of Shahdan. He will be integral to the passing game that the Stags are looking to implement. His vision and passing range will be key if this expensively assembled squad are to win the title.
- The coach: V Sundramoorthy The Dazzler" has given his Stags a massive leg up by bringing together 11 players from his Malaysian Super League-winning LionsXII class of 2013. In addition to the discipline that is always a part of a Sundram team, the Stags will look to add slick passing and flair to their make-up.
FIRST FIVE FIXTURES
- Monday (7.30pm): Tampines v Geylang (Jurong West Stadium)
- Feb 19 (7.30pm): Warriors v Tampines (Jalan Besar Stadium)
- Feb 26 (7.30pm): Tampines v Hougang (Jurong West Stadium)
- March 3 (7.30pm): Home v Tampines (Bishan Stadium)
- March 19 (8.15pm): Brunei DPMM v Tampines (Bandar Seri Begawan)