Kicking off this weekend, the 2017/2018 “Regionalna Vaterpolo Liga” is building up steam for the upcoming legs. Maro Joković, decorated Croatian winger and left-handed striker, took some time to share his expectations for the upcoming season with Total Waterpolo.
The “Regionalna Liga” was created in 2008 and features clubs from Croatia, Montenegro, Slovenia, and Serbia. It is divided into two brackets: The A1 upper bracket featuring the 10 best teams in the whole Adriatic region and the A2 lower bracket, currently with 9 teams participating.
Both brackets play a round-robin championship with home and away matches. The top 4 clubs in the A1 bracket proceed into the Final Four tournament to determine the champion.
The club at the very bottom of the upper bracket falls out and proceeds to play the A2 bracket next season. The best club of the A2 bracket secures a place in the upper bracket for the following period.
The second to last team from A1 enters a playoff stage with the 2nd team of the A2 bracket. The club from the lower brackets gets to host the second of the two playoff matches.
Season 2017/2018 Participants
Maro, thank you for your time. With only 30 years, you are already a heavily decorated water polo athlete who has been playing in the professional pool for over a decade now. Which clubs do you believe will have to be carefully watched this season?
I think that we need to look out for Jadran Split and HAVK Mladost, as well as Partizan and Jadran Carine in this season’s regional league.
Jadran Split is a fresh project in the making, they brought some big names, even two world champions, which proofs their serious approach. Judging by their performance in the euro cup, finally, a club from Split will once again be able to give some heavy resistance not only within the national league but also on the international stage.
HAVK Mladost has always been at the top of Croatian water polo, they renewed their roster with some impressive names like Romanian center forward Cosmin Radu and Pavo Marković who came from VK Jug. They are always a strong contester for any final, this year will be no exception. I hope they will keep the stability they had during the past few years.
VK Partizan will be a great challenge – they have a new roster and are the host to one of the most difficult pools to play at. Every game at their “Banjica” home turf is challenging and difficult for any club, including VK Jug. I believe nobody will have an easy time taking home points from Belgrade.
When it comes to Jadran Carine from Herceg Novi, although they exchanged lots of their roster and some players left, they still kept their system of play, which head coach Gojković has been refining for years now. It’s a quick-transition, fast gameplay, with physically strong individuals.
How does this year’s League compare to the past season in regards to quality?
I believe that this year’s league is a little better because we have an evener field of participating clubs. The past two years VK Jug was dominating the league quality and result-wise and easily plowed through every leg. This year, many teams have renewed their rosters, several clubs exchanged players amongst each other. That’s why I believe that it won’t be easy to win points at any away turf. This will be the most interesting part of the season. I am sure, that every point and every single goal will be necessary to reach the final four playoffs for the championship title.
You already mentioned Partizan as a challenging turf – what other venues do you personally find the most difficult to play at?
Yes, I already mentioned “Banjice” with its individual specifications. It’s slightly tighter, the water is different, the ambiance is just unique. It’s the only pool where we slipped up last year and lost to an objectively weaker team, which further proofs that their approach, as well as the whole scenery, had a negative impact on us. A slight error in focus was enough to lose points.
I further expect difficult away matches in Split and in Herceg Novi, which has always presented a challenge for us and from which we never returned home with easy points in the bag.
Of course, there is always the match at the pool next to “Sava” river, where one of our biggest opponents during the past years is waiting for us – HAVK Mladost from Zagreb.
VK Jug has had some heavy rotations in his squad after the last season. What are this year’s aims and ambitions with this fresh roster?
Indeed, Jug has heavily changed their roster – six players left, three new athletes joined the club. Many say, that we are not at the level that we have been during the past two years, which may be true, but I believe that we have gained new potential with this. We may be able to compensate with a different, faster gameplay. If we continue the work that we have been doing throughout the past two years, I’m sure that we can expect some high-quality games.
The new arrivals have quickly found their way into the team and the training regime – there were no problems at all, which is great since the season is just starting out. I think that we have every reason to be optimistic, I’m looking forward to great matches in our national league as well as the Regional League.
Regarding the European stage, I believe that with the brand new format of the Champions League every game will be more interesting, with new teams joining the league. Both groups are very difficult, ours especially, no team will be easy to defeat, even securing points at home will present a challenge. I think this is great for the audience, it will be very interesting to compete, I hope we will be able to stay on the path that we have been walking for the past two years.
Of course, the general expectations for this year are trophies from the national league, national cup, and the regional league as well as a place at the Final Eight tournament in the LEN Champions League 2017/2018.