By Andy Mulhall, Date: 3/4/14
The 2014 Czech 1st Division Championship season kicked-off with the three teams who finished first, second and third in the 2013 CZRLA 1st Division all being defeated. In possibly the biggest upset of the round, the newly branded Czech Rabbitohs – made up of players from the Pardubice Jets & Chrudim clubs, which both competed in the 2013 CZRLA 2nd Division – comprehensively defeated the 2012 & 2013 Czech 1st Division Champions Lokomotiva Beroun, 38-10.
Beroun had been undefeated in all forms of Czech domestic rugby league throughout 2012 & 2013, but have now suffered 2 defeats to the Rabbitohs in the space of a 2 week period – first in the opening game of the CZRLA pre-season 9s, which the Pardubice-Chrudim team then went on to win (after Beroun won the the trophy in both 2012 & 2013 with a perfect winning record), and now in the opening round of the CZRLA 1st Division Championship. Vit Caslavka was the pick of an impressive team effort for the Rabbitohs, while Jiri Sluka, in his first game back since a mid-2012 knee operation, was the best forward on the field with solid hits in defence and determined straight-running charges in attack , despite being on the losing team.
In what was another major upset, Slavia Hradec Kralove defeated 2013 Grand Finalists, Vrchlabi Mad Squirrels, 40-16. Hradec Kralove, who competed in the 2012 & 2013 CZRLA 2nd Division Champions, with a best place finish of 2nd in 2013, were actually a partner club to the Mad Squirrels previously, supplying several of the players who were pivotal to Vrchlabi surging through to the 2013 Grand Final. And it was one of those players, Czech national team half-back, Lada Cintler, who provided the impetus for the win, dictating the flow of the game and orchestrating the home team’s unexpectedly comfortable win.
The third match of the opening round of the Championship saw Teplice travel to Mikulov to take on the Roosters – who defeated them in the 2012 2nd Division Grand Final – to grind out a 28-22 win on the back of some powerful running from forwards Antonin Berk and Jiri Hubka, and assorted forms of brilliance from half-back, Jindra Jirotka. The Dragons however, who had established a 22-6 lead just prior to half-time, will be conscious of working on their fitness levels as the season progresses if they are to live up to early season favouritism to be the CZRLA’s 2014 Champs, after they allowed the home team to roar back into contention in the second half, with Pavel Zemanek leading the fightback. If they maintain their health & improve their fitness though, the Dragons big, physical pack and their skillful backline look like being very hard to defeat in 2014, after they impressed throughout 2013 but were let down in pivotal games by having to struggle with a smaller squad then the clubs they were competing against.
In a fourth CZRLA match, Orli Havlickuv Brod, who had the bye in the opening round of the CZRLA 1st Division, were not idle however, and took the opportunity to play a friendly with the Usti nad Labem Blades, who debut in the CZRLA 2nd Division this year. With a comfortable 52-0 win, the Eagles showed the sort of cross-field class that will ensure they are another team who have improved vastly in the of-season under the demanding off-season training regime of coach Pavel Kubasta, and will also be well in the running for silverware in 2014.