KUALA LUMPUR: Former Kelantan stalwart Saizul Hafiz Md Noor has urged the state's senior players to play a more active role in developing Kelantan's young rugby players.
Kelantan used to dominate domestic rugby competitions and won the Agong's Cup in 2005 and three times in a row from 2010-2012 but have been in decline in recent years.
They did not make it past the group stage of the competition last year.
Hafiz, 38, is the youngest of the three Md Noor brothers who helped power Kelantan to their previous Agong's Cup victories. The other two are Khairul Azhar and Saizul Hafifi.
He believes that Kelantan does not lack young talent, but is without senior figures to guide them on the pitch.
"For this year's Agong's Cup (Sep 23-Oct 1) we (Kelantan) will field a young squad comprising university players as well as those who competed in the Kelantan state league," said Hafiz when met recently.
"We do actually have (Kelantan-born) senior players, however, they have gone on to compete for other states.
"This has unfortunately left us without senior players who can guide the younger ones on the pitch.
"We used to have a good mix of young and senior players but this is not the case anymore.
"We (Md Noor brothers) cannot play competitively anymore (due to age) so it is up to our current seniors to come back and lead the younger ones. It is up to them to continue the tradition.
"We cannot keep depending solely on young players and have them pinched by other states when they mature and hit top form."
Players are free to represent any state in the Agong's Cup competition. Rugby remains an amateur sport in Malaysia and players are usually signed by states or clubs on a tournament-by-tournament basis.
Hafiz added that Kelantan's target this season is to at least make it to the quarter-finals of the Agong's Cup.
They have been grouped together with defending champions Putrajaya and two-time winners Johor in Pool A.
"Kelantan have become the underdogs. We are not among the top contenders anymore," said Hafiz.
"Our goal is to improve on last year's performance and make the quarter-finals.
"We have been given a tough group and it is hard to predict how well prepared and which players these other teams have signed. We will only know when the tournament starts.
"But having said that, we believe we have a chance of making it past the group stage."
The winner of Pool A will likely face East Malaysian heavyweights Sabah in the quarter-finals.