Michal Kubiak (POL)

The Panasonic Panthers welcome the Nagoya Wolfdogs as the Japan V.League men’s tournament gets underway this weekend. Both clubs will hope to win the 2021/22 competition.

Poland superstars Michal Kubiak and Bartosz Kurek are back in Japan to represent the Panthers and the Wolfdogs respectively, and are expected to lead their squads in offence when they play on Saturday and Sunday.

Kubiak has been with the Panthers for multiple seasons and guided his team to victory against Kurek's team last season to finish in second place. Kurek showed his strength in scoring over the duration of the season to help the Wolfdogs to finish third overall.

The Panthers pack a lot of experience with the majority of their players having already tasted international success, headed by Tokyo 2020 gold medal winning coach Laurent Tillie of France, world champion Kubiak and Japan national team veterans Kunihiro Shimizu, Issei Otake, Hideomi Fukatsu and Akihiro Yamauchi.

The Wolfdogs have Kurek as their main scoring weapon who will get support from Japan national team standouts Kenta Takanashi and Tomohiro Ogawa. The Nagoya-based club will be mentored by newly appointed American coach Chris McGown.

The season opener will be between JTEKT Stings and JT Thunders Hiroshima on Friday at 19.00 local time, followed by the match between VC Nagano and Toray Arrows at 19.30.

The Stings no longer have superstar Yuji Nishida in their roster - he is now playing in the Italian League. But they still have their Rio 2016 gold medallist Felipe Fonteles leading their offence from the flanks. Australian scoring machine Thomas Edgar is also back in Japan and will be playing in his fourth season with the Thunders.

VC Nagano and Toray Arrows will be boosted by Rivan Nurmulki and Krisztian Padar respectively.

Sakai Blazers will be led this season by the high-leaping Canadian hitter Sharone Vernon-Evans, who will go up against Venezuelan Emerson Rodriguez of Oita Miyoshi Weisse Adler on Saturday and Sunday.

Defending champions Suntory Sunbirds will also play this weekend against FC Tokyo.

Women's V.League

In the women’s tournament, Toray Arrows and Victorina Himeji will open the season with their first match-up on Friday at 18.15, and their second encounter is scheduled the next day at 17.30.

Japan’s young stars Ai Kurogo and Mayu Ishikawa will join forces with veteran Jana Kulan for the Arrows, while Victorina Himeji will be reinforced by Dutch star Celeste Plak.

The main highlight of the opening weekend is the match-up between Toyota Auto Body Queenseis and defending champions JT Marvelous on Saturday and Sunday at 12.00.

Kelsey Robinson will make her debut in the V.League wearing the Queenseis jersey and she will be pitted against her USA teammate Annie Drews, who is playing in her third season in Japan after leading JT Marvelous to back-to-back title wins.

The match-up between the Queenseis and JT Marvelous will also be a battle between two Thai middle blockers – Hattaya Bamrungsuk and Thatdao Nuekjang.

Hisamitsu Springs have a similar line-up to last season, and will still be headed by Olympic multi-medallist Foluke Akinradewo, Yuki Ishii and Miyu Nagaoka. The Kobe-based squad will take on Hitachi Rivale, who are led by American middle blocker Hannah Tapp.

Sarina Koga, who was noted for her stellar performances at the 2021 FIVB Volleyball Nations League and the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, takes the lead in NEC Red Rockets' campaign this season, alongside veteran Haruyo Shimamura. The Red Rockets will be playing this weekend against Kurobe Aqua Fairies, who are bannered by young Thai star Pimpichaya Kokram.

Finally, Denso Airybees and PFU Blue Cats will play their two matches this weekend at 13.00, while Okayama Seagulls and Saitama Ageo Medics will be pitted against each other at 14.00 on both Saturday and Sunday.