DUBAI // Given the rich success the club have enjoyed in recent years, the players of the Abu Dhabi Harlequins know they have big boots to fill when they face the Jebel Ali Dragons in the UAE Premiership grand final this evening.
None more so than their young captain Billy Graham. The 24-year-old business development manager was handed the keys to a prestigious office when Alistair Thompson, the Quins and UAE captain, retired from all rugby at the end of last season.
During the Thompson years, Quins won three cups, a Premiership title and last season's Gulf Top Six. Tellingly, they never lost a final on the Scotsman's watch.
Perpetuating that cycle of success might seem a tough assignment. Fortunately for Graham, he has some enviable firepower with which to do it.
"The Quins set-up is fantastic and we have a number of leaders within the squad, so while I've been doing the captaincy there have been a number of individuals helping out," the back-row forward said.
"Experience counts for a lot and we have a group of guys now who have quite a lot of experience between them. Finals like this are the games we enjoy and the reason the majority of us play rugby is for games like this."
Chris Davies, the Quins director of rugby, has been impressed with the manner in which his new team leader has marshalled a side in transition.
"Billy is such a great motivator, he inspires the guys with his performances on the field," Davies said. "He was certainly the right choice as captain. We picked him to be captain for the [Dubai Sevens] last season with a view to his development, knowing behind the scenes that guys would be retiring.
"He very rarely makes the wrong decision on the field as a leader, and he is very motivational in his actions. As a young guy he has certainly grown because of it."
Having won all five matches in the league season, including their meeting with the Dragons, form suggests the Quins should start as favourites.
Despite finishing top of the ladder, they were not afforded home advantage, though, with this evening's match taking place instead at the neutral venue of The Sevens, Dubai.
That could be a handy portent for the Dragons as they bid to arrest their own miserable run in major matches in the XVs format.
One of the few finals the Quins have lost in recent times came at the ground in Dubai, when the Dragons put them to the sword in the abridged version at the Dubai Rugby Sevens.
"As a club, we have been fully focused for the last five months on the UAE Premiership," said Paul Hart, the Dragons captain.
"After years of dominating the sevens circuit and winning several Dubai Sevens crowns, it is time to fulfil our potential in the 15 aside format. We are just peaking at the right time and we will do everything within our power to win the grand final."
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