By Gabriel Tan
The 2012 Great Eastern-YEO's S.League campaign has reached its halfway point and with all but one of the RHB Singapore Cup opening round fixtures completed, there's no better time to cast our eyes on this season's best performers so far.
There were a couple of positions with standout candidates who were never at risk of missing out, yet in other parts of the field, there were a number of individuals who made an equally compelling case to be included.
After much deliberation, we present to you ESPNSTAR.com's midterm Team of the Season and we found the best way to accommodate all this talent was to go with the tried and tested 4-4-2 formation.
GK: Yazid Yassin (Geylang United)
Bottom of the table and with the worst defensive record in the competition; it has been a season to forget for Geylang so far. However, just think where the Eagles would actually be if they didn't have a veteran by the name of Yazid standing between the posts.
The 32-year-old, who has played in every season of the S.League, singlehandedly helped Geylang to a number of respectable defeats in games that threatened to turn into embarrassments, and has been a strong leader in a young, developing side.
He also deserves special credit for his role in helping the authorities nab two South Korean match-fixers, proving that there are still plenty of good guys left in the game.
RB: Affize Faisal (Harimau Muda)
At the halfway stage of the season, Ong Kim Swee's young charges currently lie fourth in the table, a more-than-acceptable result by his own admission. But while he has had a number of internationals including Mahalli Jasuli and Fadhli Shas to call upon, it has been Affize that has really caught the eye with his displays.
The 23-year-old has conducted himself exemplarily and always gives 100% whenever he takes to the field. When the opposition are in possession, he is tenacious in defence yet whenever his side are on the attack, Affize comes in very handy with his composure and distribution.
He has excelled whenever Ong has given him the captain's armband in the absence of Mahalli and Fadhli and is capable of doing a job whether he is deployed in defence or midfield. Once again, Harimau Muda look to have unearthed another gem of a player.
CB: Norihiro Kawakami (Albirex Niigata)
It has been an interesting season so far for the White Swans, who are - on their day - one of the most exciting teams in the competition.
Unfortunately, a slump midway through the first half of the campaign saw them drop a couple of easy points but the fact that they have bounced back and are still fifth in the table shows how resilient they have been since then.
And they don't come more determined at the Jurong East Stadium than captain Kawakami, who has provided a steady presence at the back that has allowed Albirex to play their free-flowing, attacking game.
The Izumo native is also pretty useful in the air, and played a key role in their 2-1 win over Hougang United when he grabbed a 93rd-minute winner, a game which halted their arresting slump in form and was the first of their current five-match unbeaten streak.
CB: Paul Cunningham (Balestier Khalsa)
But when it comes to centre-backs, none have been more impressive than Balestier skipper Cunningham this season.
Despite their recent woes, the Tigers still have the best defence in the league thanks to the New Zealander's authoritative marshalling of a capable and well-drilled back four.
Before Cunningham's centre-back partner Goran Subara was ruled out of action with a fractured wrist, there was just no getting past the Balestier attack in the air or on the ground, something the Toa Payoh Stadium faithful will be hoping to see again soon.
LB: Nurullah Hussein (Gombak United)
Gombak coach K. Balagumaran deserves plenty of credit for putting his faith in youth this season and has so far been repaid with the performances of his protégés. Already, Samuel Benjamin looks one of the most exciting wingers in the league while Muhd Nur Na'iim has been a real presence in the Bulls engine room.
Nonetheless, the one player who could just go on and become the best of the lot is 19-year-old Nurullah, who was thrown into the thick of things on the opening day of the season and hasn't looked out of place.
With good technique and plenty of pace to burn, the teenager has proved himself to be capable both when defending and going forward. Already, he has been tried out as a left-winger by Balagumaran but in defence appears to be where his future will most probably lie.
Nurullah is also capable of whipping in a mean cross and if he continues his development, he could easily be the long-term successor to Shaiful Esah for Singapore.
RM: Wan Zack Haikal (Harimau Muda)
While we mentioned earlier how Affize has stepped up to the plate for Harimau Muda, one of their more-established names that has lived up to expectations has been Wan Zack.
Since his starring role in their opening game of the season - a 2-0 win over Gombak - the Malaysia international has been unstoppable when he's on form, and has weighed in with his fair share of goals and assists.
The future looks extremely bright for the 21-year-old, whose only weakness at present appears to be his slightly-suspect temperament.
CM: Shi Jiayi (Home United)
Home were tipped by many as one of the league's main challengers at the start of the season and they remain on track to achieve just that, as they are currently second and five points behind leaders DPMM FC.
The fact that they find themselves in this position even though they haven't exactly hit top form goes to show the quality coach Lee Lim-saeng has at his disposal.
However, the one player that has been at his best on a consistent basis has been Shi. The Protectors midfield general is capable of delivering the most visionary of passes, yet knows when to keep it simple and retain possession for his side.
Since taking over as captain in 2011, the Singapore international has added a real steel to his game, a trait he exhibited fully in April with a man-of-the-match performance in Home's 1-0 win over DPMM - the only team this season Vjeran Simunic's men have been beaten in the league.
CM: Hafiz Abu Sujad (Courts Young Lions)
Following a poor start to the campaign, Young Lions have picked up some form of late and are currently 10th in the 13-team competition.
Given coach Robin Chitrakar lost a host of players to Malaysia Super League side LIONSXII, it has meant that a number of his younger fringe players have had to step up. And while taking over the captaincy from Hariss Harun was never going to be an easy feat, Hafiz has stepped up to the task admirably.
The 21-year-old regularly provides his team with plenty of drive from midfield and is extremely tidy in his distribution. More importantly, Hafiz is one of the few players who is content to let the ball do the work for him - a quality not often found in one his age.
LM: Sho Kamimura (Albirex Niigata)
Left-midfield was the one position that stirred up plenty of debate, mainly because both Young Lions' Sherif El-Masri and SAFFC's Tatsuro Inui have been real stars not just for their respective teams, but in the competition itself.
However, in the end, we plumped for Kamimura, who has torn defences to shreds in almost every game he has played. When his team are on song, he invariably is the one pulling the strings and even when Albirex are not at their best, he remains one of the few who are making a difference.
He has also weighed in with three goals this season and countless assists, but it is the creative outlet down the left he provides that genuinely makes him stand out.
ST: Frederic Mendy (Home United)
When it comes to strikers, finding the back of the net always plays a big part which is why it's probably no surprise the S.League's top scorer so far with 11 goals has a place in our best XI.
It took Mendy four games before he opened his league account, a surprise given how he has bullied defenders into submission in the past, but since then he hasn't stopped scoring.
With a perfect combination of pace, power and technique, the Frenchman is unplayable when he's in the mood and if he continues to fire, Home have every chance of winning the league this season.
ST: Shahrazen Said (DPMM FC)
And to partner Mendy up front, and complete our best XI of the season so far, we've gone for a player who's completely his opposite.
Dimunitive and ungainly at times, Shahrazen may not strike fear into most opposition defences at first sight, but give him a yard of space inside the box and it's clear why he's managed to find the net eight times this season.
More importantly, the Bruneian is also willing to put to do the dirty work for his side and will regularly drift wide to create space for his team-mates to work with. Nonetheless, in terms of finding a spare yard inside the box and planting the ball into the back of the net, there's no one in the league better at doing that at the moment than Shahrazen.
Coach: Darren Stewart (Balestier Khalsa)
The Tigers' recent slump in form, mainly brought about by a number of serious injuries to key players, has taken nothing away from the fact that they have been performing above all expectations this season.
And while the players have all played their part in this stunning rise, most of the credit has to go to their Australian coach, who has transformed Balestier into a disciplined and resilient unit specialising in grinding out a narrow win.
Stewart has made sure every member of his team, from Joey Sim in goal to Patrick Paranjody up forward, knows his role and carries it out whenever they take to the field. The Tigers were most impressive this season in their back-to-back victories over SAFFC and Harimau Muda, two matches where the ex-Gombak boss got his tactics spot on.
GK: Shahril Jantan (SAFFC)
CB: Daniel Bennett (SAFFC)
FB: Jeremy Chiang (Home United)
CM: Musashi Okuyama (Albirex Niigata)
WG: Sherif El-Masri (Courts Young Lions)
ST: Jordan Webb (Hougang United)
ST: Moon Soon-ho (Woodlands Wellington)