It is with much anticipation that the new season kicks off this weekend with so much to look forward to.
Again, we see new teams, some old faces returning and a plethora of new coaches taking the helm at various clubs. It makes for interesting times for a competition which appears to be one of the most open in years.
Central Coast FC v Sydney University Saturday 7pm, Pluim Park Lisarow
The season proper commences at Pluim Park in Lisarow where Central Coast tackle Sydney University in the opening game of the year.
Central Coast are one of the clubs with a new, if familiar face taking over the coaching ranks, with local stalwart Peter Preston resuming control from the bench. With the club again under the auspices of the local association, that is perhaps no real surprise, as Preston, assistant coach last season when under the Mariners banner, is one of the most recognisable faces in Central Coast football. Preston was also the head coach the last time the association fielded their side in the FNSW competition, back in 2011.
Having finished second on the first grade ladder last season, and only two points short of grabbing the Club Championship, Central Coast are sure to be extremely competitive again this season. They will be expected to rely on their youth once more and after last season’s showing why not?
Sydney University, again with Raul Blanco in charge, should also be a force to contend with. Uni finished sixth last season, just one point from the semis, but will face this season without captain, and their equal top scorer, Peter Crevani, who has moved onto Sutherland Sharks. A scorer of ten goals last year, Crevani will be missed, but with fellow top scorer Gavin Forbes returning for another year, they should not be short of goals. Forbes still knocked in a couple during the preseason cup so he seems to have continued where he left off last year.
Macarthur Rams v St George Saturday 730pm, Lynwood Park, St Helens Park
Two traditional PS4 Men’s 2 heavyweights meet up on Saturday when the reigning champions Macarthur Rams entertain the visiting St George. Both teams are under new coaching staff and both have also turned over a significant portion of the playing squads from last season.
The home side are now under the reins of John Sopina, who takes over from Claudio Canosa, and while Grand Final winners such as Gerard Ouffoue, Alvaro Malmierca, Louis Duchesne and Emmanual Elali have all moved on, Elali to the Rams’ opponents this weekend, Macarthur have retained a core of players including captain Craig Cooley, keeper Chad Taylor, and Calum Fleming, David McMurray, Daniel Ramirez, Joel Craig and Reuben Agyei-Danso. Add in newcomers Mark Symington and Daniel Willoughby from Mounties, and the Rams should threaten for the finals as always, despite some poor Cup results.
St George returns to the PS4 NPL NSW Men’s 2 competition after a difficult year in PS4 NPL NSW Men’s 1. After sweeping this competition in 2013, the Saints found the higher tier a different proposition and will likely look to consolidate this coming season.
Only Johnathan Kontalis and Lennox Tweneboa remain from last season’s first grade squad, while new coach David Perkovic returns to the local scene after a stint coaching overseas. Perkovic has brought in some familiar faces such as striker Wassim Hijazi and David Wilson from his former Fraser Park club, though both have seen time at St George previously, as have new signings Aaron Liddell, Stevan Ilic, Andrija Petkovic,Tarik Ercan and Michael Yarnold, while Matt Sadler, a member of the premiership and championship squad of 2013, also makes a return.
The Saints beat Macarthur 4-0 in their final cup fixture a few weeks ago but with the season proper now commencing, they should expect a much tougher encounter this weekend.
Spirit FC v Bankstown City Saturday 730pm, Christie Park, Marsfield
There can be little doubt that Bankstown City have conducted the headline offseason signings with Michael Beauchamp and Dean Heffernan joining the Lions for the upcoming year. Both were of course playing in the Hyundai A-League only a short time ago so they should easily be expected to shine at this level.
Another club with a new coach at the helm, in Leo Carle, the Lions had some mixed results in the Cup but Carle was nevertheless pleased with the overall performances. Along with Heffernan and Beauchamp, Bankstown also signed Dion Shaw, the 2013 Mens 2 Goalkeeper of the Year, and Chris Gomez from St George, along with Championship winner from Macarthur, Alvaro Malmierca, and should be among the title contenders after a disappointing seventh finish in 2014.
Likewise, Spirit FC will want to put behind them a similarly disappointing 2014. Predominantly in the lower half of the table all season, Spirit will be looking to regain their position as a regular finals contender.
Their results in preseason certainly indicated that they are on the right track, making the Cup final, and with John McLafferty again leading the team, Spirit FC should be a force once more. They have traditionally been a strong defensive team and with captain and keeper Murray Nelson, along with backline regulars including Nick Trimble, Daniel Cunningham, Ross Kethel and Tom Lovell backing up, Spirit will be tough to break down. Add in one-time Bankstown City top scorer Gosue Sama looking for goals, and it will be a difficult task for the Lions first up, especially at Christie Park.
Hakoah Sydney City East v Fraser Park Saturday 730pm, Hensley Field, Pagewood
A new face at this level is Hakoah Sydney City East who earned promotion to the National Premier Leagues after sweeping all before them last season, comfortably winning State League One and their Club Championship, while taking the Grand Final for good measure.
No doubt Hakoah will find this league a different proposition, as their pre season cup results perhaps showed, but led by player/coach Gavin Rae and again with the experienced Neil Jablonski on the park, the eastern suburbs based club won’t be lacking in desire to prove themselves at this level.
While Sydney University are moving onto Lambert Park this season, Hakoah will have use of Hensley Field once more, and it will be Fraser Park who venture the short distance to commence their season.
It was at Hensley in the final round last year that Fraser Park managed to retain their own NPL status, eking out a scoreless draw against Uni to edge Hills Brumbies into bottom spot on the Club Championship, by the slightest of margins. Fraser survived by the skin of their teeth, but having played every game away from their normal Sydenham home last season, they will expect better things to come this year.
With the experienced coach Mile Todoroski returning once more, Fraser Park showed plenty in pre season to suggest that this year will be much improved.
Northern Tigers v Bankstown Berries Sunday 3pm, Mills Park, Asquith
There is change afoot at Northern Tigers where, after a stint of six years, Jason Eagar has passed the coaching responsibilities over to the club’s Under 20s coach Steve Hurd. Preseason results suggest that it might be business as usual though with the Tigers’ strong Cup results, notwithstanding a 0-4 reverse at Spirit, indicating that they should be again challenging for honours. Another notable absentee is former keeper and captain Stuart Page, who has retired, with Matt Nemes the replacement between the sticks.
Apart from that though, there is a familiar ring to the Tigers lineup although Russell Farrell has also joined, from the relegated Hills Brumbies, to add another new face to the squad, while Paul Davies returns. The Tigers are invariably one of the more successful and consistent Mens 2 clubs and there is no reason to expect that this season should be any different.
They start the season with a tough opponent in Bankstown Berries however, who have also shown good early season form, Cup winners no less. Coach Wally Savor backs up for a second season at The Crest, after taking over midseason last year, and will hope for a better commencement to the season than the Berries had last year. Unusually, the Berries had a poor year in 2014, finishing tenth, and never rising higher than eighth at any stage, but there has been plenty of movement, both in and out, with signings including championship winners Louis Duchesne and Gerard Ouffoue coming in from Macarthur Rams while Mitchell Davidson and keeper Michael Frost have ventured from Fraser Park. Quite a change out at The Crest, last season’s results clearly not acceptable to a club more used to challenging for top spot.
Mount Druitt Town Rangers v Mounties Wanderers Sunday 3pm, Popondetta Park, Emerton
The Rangers will be hoping for a better 2015 after claiming the wooden spoon last season but some shrewd signings indicate that they should leave that battle for others this year. Aiden Desmond takes over the coaching position after concentrating solely on the Technical Director role last year and he will relish tackling his long time former club in the opening round. Premiership winners Shayne Ardle, Robert Tribbia and Justin Biega join from Parramatta FC while the evergreen Daniel McCann again pulls on the boots for another year.
This clash should be an interesting affair with Mounties now being coached by last year’s Rangers head in Luis Contigiani and with the King brothers also moving over to Cook Park, along with Peter Hubbard, there will be plenty on offer here. Interestingly, Mounties have also signed Elsid Barkhousir, the former Blacktown Spartans and Sydney Utd player, and indeed Mount Druitt Town Ranger, who is dropping down a level for this year. So with Matt Vieira, and new signing Matthew Mayora coming in from APIA, goals should be in plentiful supply at Cook Park. But the Mounties will need to manage without the goals of Alvin Singh, who has returned to Fiji.
A regular finals contender since their promotion to this level in 2012, Mounties will be expecting similar results this season, and they should again show themselves to be a major player in this competition.
By Peter Rowney