А new season – a new format. The Premier Regional League starts on Thursday according to the new competition formula.
As in the last season and in the season 2020/21, the league will be played throughout the tournament, but with a modified system. In the first phase, the teams are split into four groups, and then they will “cross” each other until they all play 11 rounds.
The composition of the league remained almost the same as it was in the ast season when 13 teams participated. Budva, which was ranked 13th and was relegated, is missing compared to the 2021/22 Regional League. However, no one from A1 advanced to the Premier League. Sabac and Mornar, which struggled to keep their places in the Premier League beat the best teams of the A1 league in the relegation playoffs.
Novi Beograd stronger than last year
Reigning champion Novi Beograd stands out as the favorite for the title. Last season, the Belgrade-based new water polo powerhouse had ups and downs in its debut in the Regional League. But, as the season was approaching an end, they reached the peak of their form. They won 1st place in the regular part of the season, thus hosting the Final Four, where they won the trophy.
It seems that Novi Beograd is an even more serious favorite this season than last. The team has been strengthened, and the biggest rivals of Novi Beograd are of similar quality as last year. Moreover, some of the rivals were left without key players during the transfer window.
The biggest reinforcements of New Belgrade, which has been led by new coach Zivko Gocic, are certainly Alvaro Granados, world champion, and Dimitrios Skoumpakis, Olympic silver medalist. The newcomers are goalkeeper Radoslav Filipović and center Savo Cetković. Novi Beograd beat Partizan, Noisy- le-Sec, Szolnok and Ferencvaros at the “Vlaho Bata Orlić” memorial tournament, and the new players showed that they fit into the system.
Jadran, Jug, Radnicki
Last year, 2nd place was won by Jadran Split, the vice-champion of Croatia. During the transfer window, left-handed Konstantinon Kharkov left the club, but Jadran kept the other key players and brought in several reinforcements. Many of them enter the new season with the confidence of winning the European title as members of the Croatian national team. Last year, Jadran began the process of returning to the top of Croatian and European water polo, and it is to be expected that the club’s ambitions are high.
Jug Dubrovnik, the bronze medalist last season and champion of Croatia, was weakened during the summer as Hrvoje Benic, Greek aces Stylianos Argiropoulos and Alexandros Papanastasiu departed from the club. All three were among the leaders of the play. However, a large number of experienced aces, led by Croatian water polo legend Maro Jokovic, stayed in Dubrovnik. Newcomers need to prove themselves.
Radnički from Kragujevac did not change its roster much. The most significant reinforcement is Nemanja Vico. The fact that the Kragujevac team has been together for several years and has had no significant changes in the team is Radnicki’s advantage, especially at the beginning of the season. At least a place in the Final Four is expected from Radnicki.
Others are in shadow, but…
Last year, fifth place was won by Jadran from Herceg Novi. The champion of Montenegro enters the new season with a rejuvenated team but capable of surprising the favorites. Good performances at the start of the Champions League qualifiers are encouraging.
Crvena Zvezda, which finished sixth last season, made a couple of changes in their lineup. It seems that the team is at a similar level as last year, so it is quite certain that the Red Whites will target a place in the upper part of the table.
Zvezda’s big local rival, Partizan, faced a mass exodus of players during the summer. Even 11 players left the club. However, at the preparatory tournaments in Novi Sad and Belgrade, the new Partizan squad displayed good performances and showed that it wouldn’t be an underdog. If they continue progressing, the Black Whites will be among the serious candidates for the semi-finals, maybe not this season, but in the next season, they could be among the best teams, for sure.
Two of the many former European champions that play in the Premier League – Primorac from Kotor and Mladost from Zagreb took eighth and ninth place last season. The team from Zagreb, with the new leadership, has high long-term goals. This season is a new beginning, and participation in the Regional League should show how close those lofty goals are. The start of the season was quite solid. Mladost won first place in the qualification group of the Champions League. Truth be told, Mladost had only one big rival – the home team Jadran from Herceg Novi, but thanks to good defense, they won that game too (9:7).
Primorac was in a big crisis for several years, but it is slowly getting back on track. Primorac, like Mladost and Jadran, took part in the Champions League qualifiers last weekend. They won second place behind a high-quality team of Vasas, but a very good game against the Hungarian club, promises that the favorites in the Regional League will not have easy tasks against Primorac.
Former Serbian champion Sabac, Solaris Sibenik and Mornar Split battled to avoid relegation until the very end last season. Sabac renewed the team, brought in several reinforcements, and kept the player of the Serbian national team Ognjen Stojanovic, so they probably won’t fear for survival this season. Sabac played very good games in the preliminary games and avoiding relegation isn’t the club’s primary goal…
Mornar did not start well this season – with a convincing defeat against Jug in the first round of the Croatian Championship (4:16). Solaris has yet to show its capabilities, but both teams will likely play better and better as the season will approach an end.
First stage (October 6 – 9, schedule)
Group A (Herceg Novi)
Participating clubs: Jug AO, Jadran HN, Primorac.
Thursday, October 6: Jug – Primorac (19:00)
Friday, October 7: Jadran HN – Jug (19:00)
Saturday, October 8: Primorac – Jadran HN (19:00)
Group B (Split)
Participating clubs: Jadran S, Solaris, Mornar
Thursday, October 6: Solaris – Mornar (20:00)
Friday, October 7: Jadran S – Solaris (20:00)
Saturday, October 8:Mornar – Jadran S (12:00)
Friday, October 7: Mladost – Sabac (21:15)
Saturday, October 8: Novi Beograd – Mladost (19:45)
Sunday, October 9: Sabac – Novi Beograd (09:45)
Group D (Kragujevac)
Participating clubs: Radnicki, Crvena Zvezda, Partizan
Friday, October 7: Crvena Zvezda – Radnicki (19:00)
Saturday, October 8:Partizan – Crvena Zvezda (19:00)
Sunday, October 9: Radnicki – Partizan (19:00)
The full calendar and competition formula is HERE.