The Cambodian Eagles matched up against the Thailand Tigers and Vietnam Swans in a tri-nation Australian rules football series in Bangkok as part of the AFL Asia 2016 season. They scored a run-away win over the Tigers 38-13 but lost a hard-fought battle against the Swans 0-22.
The Eagles had suffered a serious pre-tournament blow with senior coach Nick Hattingh and player Peter Maitland involved in a serious traffic collision. Hattingh was banged up and bruised, and lucky to escape serious injury, but Maitland ended up with a terrible leg injury.
With heavy hearts, the Eagles travelled with a small squad of just 15, players including two older players who had been off the park for a while and eight Khmer players, the most ever taken on an international tour.
Expectations were measured when the Eagles stepped in for the triangular series since the local side had a squad of 30 expats and Vietnamese. However, stand-in coach Keith Twyford focused on the opportunity the games provided the young Khmer players and he gave them maximum game time.
In the opener against the Tigers, which was played in two 12-minute halves format, the Eagles started in a flash, catching the opposition completely off guard.
The young Khmer players were swarming in numbers at contests on the ground, taking marks, hitting space and tackling their much bigger opponents with ferocity and courage. Grant Fitzgerald dominated in the ruck and air, feeding Peter Kokke, Bret Norton and Nas Nan, who had a field day through the middle, winning plenty of inside 50s and giving the forwards lots of chances.
Wily old-timer Alby Crocker was a real focal point at full forward, jagging the first goal, followed by a boomer from Norton and then Fitzgerald chipped in. By the break, the Eagles were well on top and leading by 17 points, only wayward kicking keeping the Tigers in contention.
The second half went like the first, with the Eagles winning nearly every contest in an amazing exhibition of football. The defence led by Randi, Kun, Vannack and the rest were tough and hard. The scoreboard kept ticking over with majors to Crocker and Kokke giving the Eagles a very convincing win over their far more fancied opponents. Score: Eagles 3-5-23, 5-8-38 beat Tigers 1-0-6, 2-1-13
The second match was straight after the first one, so the Swans had the advantage of being rested on the top of their experience and fitness.This was a different game to the one against the Tigers, more evenly matched and very hard fought. The Swans had better structure inside 50 and a very strong half back line that saw them repel any Eagles attacks.
The ruck contest between Fitzgerald and the Swans giant Grant Keys was enthralling with Fitz really taking it up to him and matching Keys in the air. Not much was in it at the break with the Swans winning by just a single goal.In the second half, the ball rarely got to the Eagles forward line.
With all the play in the Swans 50, the “General” Randi at full back stepped up and played his best game of the year, never giving an inch and laying ferocious tackles.Well supported by the gang of young Khmer lads and Mark Illot, the Eagles defence remained tight, letting the Swans score just two more goals.
Kokke and Nas continued to run and give their all, going in for crunching tackles and never giving up. yet the Eagles were ultimately beaten by a stronger team working in far greater numbers.
Score: Swans 1-1-7, 3-4-22 beat Eagles 0-0-0, 0-0-0.