Round 9 of the PlayStation 4 National Premier Leagues' 2 NSW Men's competition gets underway this weekend with five matches on Saturday and two on Sunday.
The Football NSW cameras will be at Popondetta Park on Saturday night for the match of the round clash between Mt Druitt Town Rangers and Northern Tigers.
In other matches, Western Sydney Wanderers host Central Coast Mariners; Bankstown City entertain Hills Brumbies; Mounties Wanderers tackle the Marconi Stallions; Macarthur Rams journey to The Crest to face Bankstown Berries; Spirit FC host Blacktown Spartans and North Shore Mariners face St George at Northbridge Oval.
Mounties v Marconi Stallions, Valentine Sports Park, 3pm, Sunday 30 April
Valentine Sports Park this Sunday will feature the Mounties Wanderers entertain top guns Marconi Stallions in the PS4 NPL 2 NSW Men's match of the round.
With the likes of former Socceroo Michael Beauchamp and ex A-Leaguers Sean Rooney, Mirjan Pavlovic and Marko Jesic at their disposal, the Stallions boast the best roster in the league. They also boast the most experienced roster. And they boast the most expensive roster. Therefore, it's no surprise they're on top of the table, two points ahead of Western Sydney and Blacktown Spartans.
But despite the overwhelming favouritism lauded upon Tony Candy's band of merry men, the Stallions have been inconsistent; scraping home against teams they should dominate. And who will forget the dreadful 4-0 capitulation at North Shore Mariners?
So, which Marconi lineup will arrive at Valentine this Sunday? The one that has the potential to rip a defence to shreds? Or the one that will play within itself and sneak home on the sniff of an oily rag? Only time will tell.
Meanwhile, Mounties coach Lee Sterrey is mindful of what his side is up against when they face a club he has both played for and coached.
"They're a gun side," Sterrey said of Marconi. "They've bought, bought, bought for two years now so you expect them to be where they are on the table. They've got some quality individuals, the likes of Pavlovic, Jesic, Rooney and Beauchamp. The front three alone can always hurt you, so you've got to deal with what they throw at you.
"But I think they're very beatable and I think defensively they're suspect. But at the end of the day you've got to play very well to beat them because they've got quality at this level. I think it'll be a very tough assignment."
Mounties go into the match following a one-all draw against Macarthur Rams last Saturday, an outcome that disappointed Sterrey immensely.
"We needed to beat Macarthur for back-to-back wins to get higher up the table," Sterrey said. "We also would have had more confidence going into the Marconi game. But as far as I'm concerned, if our players need to be motivated to play Marconi then they probably need Doctor Phil. I expect my players to be up for it because they know how big Marconi is. I was an ex player there, an ex-coach there, it's probably my home club. So, going back home you just want to play good football and throw everything you can at them."
Bankstown City Lions v Hills Brumbies, Jensen Park, 7pm, Saturday 29 April
Bankstown City Lions were desperately unlucky to lose 4-3 at Blacktown Spartans last week and they'll be desperate to gather some points when they host high-flying Hills Brumbies at Jensen Park on Saturday night.
With the scores locked at 3-all after 90 minutes, the Lions had the misfortune to concede the winner five minutes into stoppage time, leaving them firmly entrenched on the bottom of the league table and battling for survival.
"We had a two-goal lead and missed a penalty in (the) first half, but it's very difficult to talk when you lose a game like this," Lions coach Mile Todoroski told Football NSW. "But I can see some light at the end of the tunnel. We fight and we only just lose the game. If we play like this with a little more luck, we can survive this competition."
Bankstown will be up against it when they face a confident Hills side that has impressed since gaining promotion from PS4 NPL 3. Dan Sheppard's side last week raced out to a commanding 3-0 halftime lead against Mt Druitt Town Rangers before prevailing 3-1, giving them solid preparation for their visit to Jensen Park.
"PS4 NPL 2 is very competitive," Sheppard told Football NSW. "Even the teams we would perceive as weaker or stronger, have all gained points off each other. It's so close that a couple of wins would take us up to the top, but a couple of losses would put us right down the bottom. It's very competitive."
Although it's still early days, the Brumbies have so far impressed in their debut PS4 NPL 2 NSW campaign. They're in a good place and have the desire to continue their rise as a force to be reckoned with.
"Every game is a tough game for us," Sheppard said. "Everyone looks at us and thinks we're the new boys who need to be showed a lesson or two. So, we'll just do the best we can and hopefully pick up some more points."
Blacktown Spartans v Spirit FC, Valentine Sports Park, 7pm, Saturday 29 April
Spirit FC host Blacktown Spartans at Valentine Sports Park on Saturday night and after an unlucky 2-1 defeat to Marconi last week, Spirit coach David Perkovic is confident his side can trouble the high-flying Spartans.
Spirit took the match to Marconi and with the scores level at one-all, an unfortunate own goal by Grant Cornwell sealed the home side's fate in the 90th minute.
But despite the heart-wrenching defeat, Perkovic was delighted with his team's performance against the competition favourites, one that he believed was by far their best of the season.
"I think a draw would have been a fair result but that's the way football happens," Perkovic told Football NSW. "If we can put in that sort of effort week-in, week-out I expect us to come up the ladder quite quickly. It was a very good collective effort, the boys put in a really good shift."
When asked what he expected of the Spartans, Perkovic replied: "They've started the season really well. Contrary to what (Spartans coach) Luis (Contigiani) thinks, they're riding the wave at the moment. I'm expecting to face a team with a lot of confidence and when you play a team with a lot of confidence, it's a side you've got to be wary of."
Meanwhile, the Spartans returned to the winners' circle with a sensational last-gasp 4-3 victory over Bankstown City Lions last Saturday, a victory that not only kept them in equal-second alongside Western Sydney Wanderers, but also proved the resilience of Contigiani's young side.
A limited budget. A complete cleanout of personnel from last year. A young team with an average age of 20 and a coach who has everyone sharing his belief that with hard work and passion, good things can happen, the Spartans have been the surprise package of the competition so far.
"To come from 2-0 and 3-1 down and to win the game shows we're slowly maturing," Contigiani said. "I'm happy we got the result and I'm proud of the boys."
Western Sydney Wanderers v Central Coast Mariners, Blacktown Football Park, 7pm, Saturday 29 April
Western Sydney Wanderers and Central Coast Mariners will meet in the clash of the A-League academies at Blacktown Football Park on Saturday night.
The mercurial Wanderers sit in equal second position on the league table and remain one of the favourites to win the competition, while Central Coast find themselves in the precarious position of second-last, a place that belies their class and quality.
"I expect a very tough match," Wanderers coach Trevor Morgan told Football NSW. "The last time we played them in the National Youth League (NYL) it was a difficult day for us and didn't work out for us. So we've got in our mind that we need to do a lot better against them. They carry a very similar squad to what they had in the NYL minus the senior boys they use from time to time and they're going to want to beat us.
"I'm expecting a very tough game and we'll prepare accordingly. I think their (lowly) position on the table is unlikely to stay that way for long. We obviously need to do our best to win the match. We're competing against another A-League setup so they have some talent and they always find a way to make themselves really competitive."
Meanwhile, Mariners coach Ben Cahn is confident his side can do the damage against a team that many are predicting to win the premiership.
"In my time at the Mariners we've played Wanderers four times - twice in the NPL and twice in PS4 NPL 2 - and we've been the best side on all four occasions," Cahn told Football NSW. "We've beaten them once, lost once and drawn twice. It's very close, obviously (we're) two teams trying to do similar things. I have a lot of respect for how they develop players and they've obviously shown a bit more resilience than we have this season so far. It should be a really tough game.
"Every time we've played them its been really good and they play an excellent brand of football and have some excellent individuals. I genuinely enjoy playing against them so it should be a good one for people to watch."
Mt Druitt Town Rangers v Northern Tigers, Popondetta Park, Saturday 29 April, 7pm
Mt Druitt Town Rangers host Northern Tigers at Popondetta Park on Saturday night and Aidan Desmond's side will be hoping to get their season back on track after a lean stretch over the past month.
Rangers haven't won since their 2-0 defeat of Mounties Wanderers in Round 4, and since then, they've lost three of their last four matches, including a 5-1 thrashing at the hands of Marconi and last week's 3-1 loss to newly-promoted Hills Brumbies.
But despite their lean record, Northern Tigers coach Mark McCormick is wary of a side that strengthened its roster in the offseason but has so far struggled to score goals.
"I know they've got real pace up top and out wide and going up to Popondetta Park is always really, really difficult," McCormick told Football NSW. "It's not an easy place to go. I'm expecting a well-organised team, a tough team that will cause us problems. So we're going to have to be really switched on this weekend and at our best to go up there to match them."
Many consider Northern Tigers to be dark horses this season. A young well-organised side that is well coached and plays with passion and commitment, the Turramurra-based side has snuck into fourth place, just behind Western Sydney Wanderers and Blacktown Spartans.
Bankstown Berries v Macarthur Rams, The Crescent Athletic Centre, 7pm, Saturday 29 April
Bankstown Berries will host fellow strugglers Macarthur Rams at The Crescent Athletic Centre on Saturday night.
The Berries and Central Coast Mariners last week shared the spoils in a closely-fought two-all draw at Pluim Park, an outcome that disappointed Berries player coach Perry Moustakas.
"It was a close game but we feel like it's two points lost (because) we conceded in the 90th-plus," Moustakas told Football NSW. "But I'm really happy with my players; I'm really proud of them. To put in the effort they did and to take the game to Central Coast made me really happy."
When asked what he expected of Macarthur, Moustakas replied: "Macarthur the last couple of weeks have picked up some points. There's a lot of teams in the same situation as Macarthur with their backs up against the wall, so they have a great fighting spirit. I've seen them play. It's definitely not going to be an easy game but after a couple of months together now, I think the boys are starting to understand what I want from them. I'm hoping we can continue in the same way."
Meanwhile, Macarthur extended their unbeaten run to three matches when they drew one-all with ambitious Mounties Wanderers last Saturday.
"We put in a balanced team effort," Rams coach Eddie Briscoe told Football NSW. "And we need to do that because we don't have any standouts in our team. We need everyone to be pulling their weight. They're punching well above their weight every week and I can't ask for more than that."
When asked what he expected of the Berries, Briscoe replied: "I know they're down there (on the table) so they're going to be fighting for their lives as well. We're losing Damian Travis, who's going away for a week and that will be a big loss for us. Frank Martey is also carrying a hamstring strain so we're going to be down to our bare bones. It's going to be a battle.
"Like us, the Berries are getting up and down results, so on the day whoever takes their chances and sticks to the game plan should win. It's difficult mate, it's going to be a battle."
North Shore Mariners v St George, Northbridge Oval, 3pm, Sunday 30 April
North Shore Mariners host St George at Northbridge Oval on Sunday afternoon and the boys from Sydney's Northside will be hoping to extend their unbeaten run to eight matches.
North Shore last week drew with the in-form Northern Tigers, a result that pleased coach Joe Haywood, whose side hasn't lost since the opening round of the competition.
When asked what he expected of St George, Haywood said: "I think it's going to be a typical PS4 NPL 2 game where they're going to be good with the football. It's going to be a quick, powerful game of football. St George have threats in their wide areas and also in midfield and we can't take it for granted. It's going to be a tough task for us and we just need to be on our game and prepare well this week."
Meanwhile, St George may have suffered a 5-2 defeat to Western Sydney Wanderers last Saturday but despite the margin, coach Terry Palapanis was pleased with his side's performance.
"We had more possession than them in the second half, which was surprising," Palapanis told Football NSW. "We created heaps of chances and it was a very close match. The difference between the two sides was the goalkeeper but I was very pleased with our guys."
Saints didn't have a senior goalkeeper available for the Wanderers clash so Palapanis was forced to play 16-year-old Nathan Cupit, who had a debut to forget; conceding three goals through basic goalkeeping errors.
Palapanis said that he was hoping to have a new goalkeeper signed as an injury replacement for the Mariners clash, a game he expected to be a major challenge.
"Apparently they're the long ball specialists," Palapanis said of the Mariners. "We've got to be ready for them. I've heard they're very direct and they press. It's going to be very challenging but we'll come up with something to actually combat their style of play. I think I'll have all players on deck and I'll have a new goalkeeper signed as an injury replacement, so that'll help. We'll be ready."
-By Derek Royal