By ROBERT TAY
KOTA KINABALU: The Tambadau, as the Sabah football team is known as for the Malaysian League 2019 campaign, is a protected animal here, but tonight, when they stomp out against Johor Darul Ta’azim II (JDT II) at the Likas Stadium, they pledge to unleash nothing but their very best to kick off the new season.
Playing in the Premier League, the country’s second-tier football competition, the Tambadau as the team is now called vowed to pick up where they left off last season and mount a strong challenge this time around.
The squad undoubtedly has found new confidence since Jelius Ating was appointed head coach midway into the league 2017.
And with their financial woes behind them – all outstanding wages have been settled since Dato Peter Anthony took over the helm of the FA – there is nothing to stop the Tambadau from picking up where they left last year.
The highlight of the Sabah team came in the Malaysia Cup 2018 where despite being the lowest ranked , they defied the odds to make it to the semifinals before losing to Perak 2-7 on aggregate.
Addressing the fans at the ‘Meet The Fans’ session here recently, Jelius admitted the uncertainties facing the FA following the leadership crisis and financial problems have affected the squad have since been ironed out.
Things however changed for the better with Peter leading the new FA management as the acting president.
With things starting to fall into place, it has positive impact on the squad and Sabah being unbeaten in two pre-season matches against quality teams in the Philippines speak volume for the progress made.
The fact that a majority of the squad were retained from last campaign too has helped made the preparations smooth.
Of the 29 players currently training with the squad, only six are new faces where they are either promoted from the junior squad or new foreign signings.
The new additions are defender Ranilson Batuil, 21, midfielder Mohd Syukri Baharun, 19, and Arius Dius Jais, 21, who were promoted from the President Cup squad.
Muhammad Mohd Safar, 27, is also making a comeback to the state senior squad after spending the last campaign with PKNP FC.
The two new foreign recruits are Serbia former under-21 international Luka Milunovic and South Korean defender Park Tae Su.
The rest of the squad are Robson Rendy Rining, Mohd Sakri Masri, Rawilson Batuil, Mafry Balang, Dendy Lowa, Jenius Karib, Ummareng Bachok, Randy Baruh @ Samson, Mohd Azzizan Nordin, Ricco Nigel Milus, Maxsius Musa, Sabri Sahar, Mohd Azwan Abd Fattah, Rahman Shah Marajeh, Justin Samaan, Mazlan Yahya, Stanley Sulong, , Melky Balang, Alto Linus and Evan Wensley Wenceslaus.
Local imports Rozaimi Rohim and Elyas Sulaiman have also been retained while forward Roduljub Paunovic has a contract that runs until the middle of the year.
That leaves the Tambadau needing to fill the one remaining spot to complete the 30-member squad, which is reserved for a fourth foreign signing.
“Hopefully we will have a fourth foreign import before we play our second league game,” said team manager Henry Saimpon when met.
Team captain Rawilson has also vowed to help Sabah kick start the season with a victory.
“The players are ready for the new season and certainly we want to start it with a win.
“This is very important to lift the spirit of the players to mount strong challenge in the league.
“Hopefully the fans will come in full force to support us throughout the season and we will give it our best to achieve promotion to the Super League,” Rawilson added.
THE FULL SABAH SQUAD
Team manager: Henry Saimpon
Head coach: Jelius Ating
Assistant coach: Burhan Ajui
Goalkeeper coach: Mark Damun
1. Rozaimie Rohim
2. Robson Rendy Rining
3. Mohd Sakri Masri
4. Rawilson Batuil
5. Mafry Balang
6. Dendy Lowa
7. Jenius Karib
8. Randy Baruh @ Samson
9. Ranilson Batuil
10. Evan Wensley Wenceslaus
11. Alto Linus
12. Elyas Sulaiman
13. Ummareng Bachok
14. Mohd Azzizan Nordin
15. Ricco Nigel Milus
16. Maxsius Musa
17. Sabri Sahar
18. Mohd Azwan Abd Fattah
19. Mazlan Yahya
20. Melky Balang
21. Stanley Sulong
22. Justin Samaan
23. Mohd Syukri Baharun
24.Arius Dius Jais
25. Muhammad Mohd Safar
26. Rahman Shah Marajeh
27. Park Tae Su
28. Luka Milunovic
29. Rodoljub Paunovic