As rugby returns from its summer break, Kelly Crane hits the pitch with the Dubai Sharks (formerly Arabian Potbellies) in a brave bid to learn the ropes.
Google ‘sharks in Dubai’ and the scariest result returned is a tenuous newspaper report about a ‘possible’ tiger shark sighting near JBR.
Head to Dubai Sports City – the home of the relatively new Dubai Sharks – for a spontaneous training session, and any thought of razor-sharp teeth accompanied by the Jaws theme tune are suddenly catapulted into the abyss.
Formerly known as the Arabian Potbellies, the club has undergone something of a rebrand.
‘The Arabian Potbellies were attracting only a certain type of person,’ says chairman Mike Quinn, with a wry smile. ‘The older gentleman, let’s say.’ After a pause adding: ‘Possibly with a bit of a well-maintained belly.’ Today, they’re looking for fresh talent – experienced or not – and players with a train hard, play hard mentality.
Established in 2005 by Brian Jenkins, who started a similar club during his time living as an expat in Hong Kong, the Potbellies found themselves losing both matches and numbers and decided it was time for a change.
‘It’s amazing what a rebrand and a bit of marketing can do,’ says Jenkins who this season stepped down as chairman but is still heavily involved.
Dubai Sharks RFC was founded in 2009 as the senior men’s team playing in the UAE conference as a UAERA affiliated rugby club. Now attracting a younger crowd (though older players are very much welcome) the squad train hard and hope to make a mark on the local and regional rugby scene in the coming years.
An immediate amalgamation of veteran touring team the Arabian Potbellies and tournament team, the Dubai Frogs, both remain key parts of the Dubai Sharks RFC.
‘We play serious rugby with commitment and have an equal commitment to the social aspects of the game,’ says Jenkins, who considers the team his ‘extended family’.
And he’s not joking when he says serious. Having been told to attend a training night with the Sharks, I’m expecting a fairly even balance of training and banter.
‘Serious rugby, seriously social’, they claim – how misleading. Ideas of standing around, beverage in hand, exchanging pleasantries banished, I come face-to-face with a wall of rather lean-looking gentlemen and scan simultaneously for the odd rotund belly or the nearest escape route.
Too late. ‘Get in line’ comes a voice from the wall. They run and drink water by the gallon together as a sign of unity. They listen to head coach Kevin Drew as if his words are laced with gold before their heads go down and it’s back to business.
Look a little deeper though and a few more rotund gentlemen are camouflaged across a striking blanket of the new blue and purple kit.
‘We are one of the more welcoming clubs,’ says Quinn. ‘If you’ve never played or haven’t played for years then come down. Just be prepared to train hard. Those with commitment will succeed.’
And it turns out there’s no need for panic. Those looking for the social side are catered for. ‘We may have become more serious on the pitch but off it, we are still the Potbellies deep down.’ And that’s certainly
a sight to behold, I’m told.
Maybe next time then.
Dhs1,000 per person per season (which runs from May each year). Training takes place on Monday and Wednesday from 7.30pm with most fixtures played on Friday. Dubai Sports City, www.dubaisharks.com.