Mumbai: A new-look Dabang Mumbai, under a new city franchise-owning group, will clash with last year's losing finalists Jaypee Punjab Warriors in their opening game of 3rd Hockey India League at Mahindra Stadium here on Friday.
The home team, owned by Doit Sports Management, appear strong on paper with an array of top foreign players led by Australia's two-time World Cup winning forward Glenn Turner - along with a string of ex-India players - including current national selector Arjun Halappa.
With three current 2014 World Cup-winning Australians - seasoned Turner who was the highest field goal scorer in last year's championship, midfielder Matthew Swann and sharp 21-year-old frontliner Jeremy Hayward - in their ranks along with top Belgian forward Tom Boon, Mumbai have sufficient firepower to break through any rival defence.
With the excellent goalkeeping skills of Adrian D'Souza to bank upon, along with the experience of other ex-India internationals like Halappa, Bharat Chikara, V S Vinaya and Vikram Pillay to prop them up, Mumbai definitely have an all round team to do better than in 2013 and 2014.
"On paper it (team) looks really good, but let's see how we perform on the pitch. Things are looking positive. I have been speaking to a few guys like Turner. They said compared to last year the planning and approach look different," said Halappa, who played for champions Delhi Waveriders last year, ahead of the game.
Punjab, on the other hand, have a settled team with veteran Australian forward Jamie Dwyer leading from the front after recovering from a foot injury that put him out of action for four-and-a-half months after being part of the superb squad that retained the World Cup in June last year.
"I haven't prepared too well. I have been out of hockey for four-and-a-half months with an injury. I have just picked up the stick, so I don't expect to be my best straight away. Hopefully, I will be playing my part for the team in the last week of the competition," said Dwyer before the game.
Dwyer, mid-fielder Rob Hammond, defender Chris Ciriello and forwards Mark Knowles and Kieran Govers - who were all members of the victorious Australian World Cup squad - are expected to play key roles along with current India stars Dharamveer Singh and S V Sunil.
Dutch super goalie Jaap Stockmann is a big asset to the side coached by Australian Barry Dancer while India discard Sandeep Singh will be relied upon to show his expertise during penalty corner drag flicks.
Dancer said yesterday that his team expected a tough fight from the new-look Mumbai team while a settled combination was his team's plus point.
"They (Mumbai) have added extra players including Tom Boon (Belgium). So we expect them to be better than last year. Continuity for us is important. We haven't had the disruption of new people coming in, so we expect we will be better having the continuity of last year," he said.