Defending champions Police face a mammoth challenge to retain next week’s Bayleys Fiji Coral Coast Sevens.

The top seed has been drawn with local rivals Westfield Dragons and Shangri-La Daveta and guest team Germany in Pool A of the tournament which starts on Thursday in Sigatoka.

Meanwhile, the Aussie Pearls side is the top women’s seed and starts their Crest Na Iri Trophy defence against Jingsu (China) and Striders (Fiji) in Pool Q.

Founded in 2010, the Coral Coast Sevens' 'champion of champions' strategy brings together the best club teams from Fiji and guest sides from overseas while in a significant statement of equality for the new Olympic sport the women's prizemoney is identical to that of the men.

Both genders play for a first prize of $20,000 over three days of intense competition at Lawaqa Park.

Westfield, along with Uluinakau, Yamacia and Wardens, won a place in the Coral Coast Sevens when they beat Coastal Ratu Filise 31-7 last month in one of four qualifying tournaments. Wardens (2011) and Yamacia (2013) are both previous champions of the tournament underlining the quality of the field.

Similarly, the Aussie Thunderbolts arrive as one of the favourites having won the Coral Coast's partner tournament, the UON Central Coast Sevens in NSW, in October.

The shadow national team, whose best performance in Sigatoka was a quarter final in 2012, headlines Pool B where Uluinakau and sponsor teams Outrigger Fiji Beach Resort and Uprising Beach Resort join them.

In-form Tabadamu meets Ratu Filise, Yamacia and the Hideaway Hurricanes, another sponsor team, in Pool C.

The Suva club, under stalwart Setefano Cakau, qualified with a victory in another partner tournament, the Samoan Independence Sevens, back in May. Further titles have followed this season while they also defeated Sir Gordon Tietjens' New Zealand development side in making the final on the Central Coast.

Pool D sees Wardens against BLK First Landing, the Naviti Resort and the third international team, Tonga. 

Wardens is another form team having qualified by winning their own tournament at the end of October and claiming both the Macuata 7s and the Yalovata 7s in November. 

On the women's side, the Pearls are seeded to meet Tonga in the last eight with the latter drawn against TFL Fijiana Tagimoucia, the Central Chiefs and the Coastline Roosters.

TFL Fijiana, winners of the tournament in 2013, has been split into two teams to give coaches Chris Cracknell and Iliesa Tanivula the opportunity to work with a wider squad.

Regular visitors the USA Serevi Selects and the New Zealand Raiders are the other overseas teams and are matched, along with 2012 runners up Marist Sea Hawks, in Pool B.

A record nine teams from Fiji take part in the women's competition with the two vacancies expected to be filled by further local teams this week.

Both the I-wau Trophy and the Crest Na Iri Trophy feature pool matches on Thursday andFriday with the top eight going through to the Cup quarter finals on Friday evening.

The complete pool play schedule is available by clicking here.