By Gabriel Tan
The LIONSXII kick off their second year in Malaysian football's top flight on Wednesday with an away game against ATM, and many expect them to once again challenge for top honours.
Last season, the Singaporean side exceeded expectations by finishing second in the league behind Kelantan, and also reached the semi-finals of the Malaysia Cup, where they will only failed to make the final after losing to ATM on penalties.
Of the names that were unveiled on Sunday as part of the LIONSXII's 29-man squad for this year, only 12 represented the team in 2012, including four of the five players over the age of 23 they are allowed to field - captain Shahril Ishak, anchorman Isa Halim, and defenders Baihakki Khaizan and Irwan Shah.
And with one eye on the Southeast Asian (SEA) Games at the end of the year, Sundramoorthy admits he will be looking to give his new players a chance to develop ahead of the Under-23 tournament.
"The new campaign has come and it's not so much about the excitement as it is the challenge," he told ESPNSTAR.com. "What we will face throughout the season is important.
"For us, we now have the limitation of five players over the age of 23 and we have many more young players. We hope they can lift themselves up to the expectations - that's important.
"Exposing the boys to tough matches in the MSL [Malaysia Super League] and giving them playing time will be key to their development.
"It's important we are competitive week in week out. Then, when we move on to the SEA Games, the players will be physically and mentally ready for the challenges.
"Hopefully we can do well then."
The former Singapore star is aware they face a tough start against the Armed Forces, who won the Charity Shield on Saturday after beating Kelantan on penalties following a 1-1 draw.
Nonetheless, he is backing his players to rise to the challenge of facing off against some of ATM's illustrious names.
"To start the season with against ATM is really tough," Sundramoorthy conceded. "But we'll have to meet them somewhere along the way anyway.
"Our boys will go there and let's see how well they can compete against the likes of Marlon [Alex] James, Hairuddin Omar and Shukor Adan.
"Let's see how well they can rise to the challenge."
Following Wednesday's trip to ATM, the LIONSXII play their first home game of the campaign on Saturday when they take on Selangor at the Jalan Besar Stadium.