Brothers can kill a tiger, while father and son can win a battle.
This Chinese saying illustrates what family strengths can deliver, a point bourne out by a pair of Australian brothers in their debut season in the Chinese Super League four years ago.
Joel and Ryan, two of three Griffiths siblings, joined up alongside each other with Beijing Guoan for the 2009 season. The striking duo made an immediate impact at the capital club with their telepathic understanding and goal-scoring rate. They grabbed eight goals apiece in their debut season that year as Beijing edged Changchun Yatai by a point to clinch their maiden league title.
However, within two years Ryan had returned home to join Newcastle Jets while Joel moved to Shanghai Shenhua. This year, however, saw them resume their Chinese odyssey. Ryan returned to the Chinese capital after inking a deal with second-division side Beijing Baxy at the start of this season and Joel, following a short spell at home-town club Sydney FC, made a U-turn by signing for Super League side Qingdao Jonoon in July.
Wednesday's Chinese FA Cup quarter-final clash between Guoan and Qingdao provided the brothers with a chance to re-unite. While Joel started the game against his former club, Ryan cheered him on in the stands. Playing at the familiar Beijing Workers' Stadium, Joel and Co got off to a good start being two goals up before the half-hour mark, but the hosts rallied to stage a 5-2 comeback victory and progress to the last four.
"We got off to a good start," Joel told FIFA.com post-match. "But after being two goals up we lost concentration and conceded goals cheaply. It was special to return and play in this stadium, but I didn't feel any pressure. I tried to play as usual."
"It was my first 90 minute game in a long time," continued Joel, who was target in his club debut last Wednesday's debut as Qingdao drew 1-1 with the visiting Changchun Yatai. "Qingdao is my third club in China and although I have yet to set a clear target, I will try to score and help my side win as many matches as possible."
"Joel was not at his best", Ryan commented on his brother who opened the scoring with a deflected free-kick, "He played simple but he worked hard. I believe he can quickly rediscover his old self."
Back to the future
The game provided 31-year-old Ryan, two years younger than Joel, with a dilemma. While applauding his elder brother's play, he was hoping his former club would fare well. As it was, Guoan bounced back to win at the expense of Joel's new side.
"Joel and I helped Guoan to many victories including winning the 2009 league title," he continued. "So it did feel special each time I returned to the stadium. When Guoan were two goals down, I wanted to be out there and help them out, just as I had done before. I was happy they quickly drew level and won the game."
He admitted it was fond memories with Guoan that prompted him to return to the capital, leaving behind a prosperous stint at Newcastle Jets to settle in China's second division. Deployed as a central midfielder, Ryan quickly adapted to his new role. Aside from impressive general play, he has so far scored seven times as Baxy moved into the top three. Trailing second-placed Haerbin by four points and with 12 matches remaining, he remains optimistic that the ambitious Baxy will finish in the top two and earn promotion to the top flight.
He said: "Our chances are good. The team maintains good performance levels and we have lost just twice. This is amazing for a club who only narrowly avoided relegation last season. I am playing a new position with Baxy but I have learned quickly. I hope I can help my team earn promotion."
Asked if he is looking forward to joining Joel in the Super League competition next year, he simply shook his head with a pretend grimace. "I hope he won't bother me," he laughed.
The line-up of Griffiths brothers may yet be reinforced with Adam, Joel's twin brother who is plying his trade with Malaysian powerhouses Selangor FA, to pay a visit to China in November. During his previous spell with Hangzhou Greentown in 2010, Adam helped his side finish among the top four and thus seal qualification for the 2011 AFC Champions League. A trial for him during the winter break will provide the three with a chance to reunite in the C-League.
"Last year all of us three played in the A-League," Ryan added, "Joel and Adam represented Sydney and I Newcastle. It would be great if Adam can have a chance to move and join us here."