Rugby: Singapore duo in Japan for professional Top League tryouts

SINGAPORE - Two national rugby players left for Japan on Tuesday in hope of being the first Singaporeans to ply their trade in Asia's premier club competition.

Reiner Leong, 29, and Alvin Ho, 24, will undergo week-long trials to play in the country's Top League, as part of a partnership between the Singapore Rugby Union (SRU) and its Japanese counterpart.

If they impress, the two props will be offered professional contracts at Top League sides, which are all owned by major Japanese companies such as Sanyo and Toshiba.

A player earns about S$15,000 on average for a five-month season. Stars like New Zealand All Blacks centre Sonny Bill Williams reportedly took home S$1.2 million for 12 matches with the Panasonic Wild Knights two years ago.

Leong said: "I'm honoured to have a chance to live my dream. I will give all I've got and hope to do Singapore proud."

It is believed that former national captain Terence Khoo was the last Singaporean to play overseas, although he did so on semi-professional terms at a lower-division English club while studying at Sheffield University in 1994.

The Top League - whose teams are known for having tougher training regimens than the All Blacks - already features two Malaysians, six Filipinos and four Hong Kong players.

Leong scored three times in an impressive debut for the Asia Pacific Dragons during last year's World Club 10s tournament, while Ho is regarded as a rising prospect in the national setup.

SRU vice-president Jonathan Leow said: "This is a tremendous opportunity for our players to learn and showcase their talent, as well as experience the life of a professional rugby player."

nsanjay@sph.com.sg