Round 15 of the PlayStation 4 National Premier Leagues' 2 NSW Men's competition kicks off this weekend, with Northern Tigers and Mounties Wanderers butting heads in what should be an intriguing Match of the Round.
In other matches, St George host Hills Brumbies; Macarthur take on Marconi; Western Sydney Wanderers entertain Bankstown City; Spirit travel to Bankstown Berries; North Shore Mariners take on Mt Druitt Town Rangers and Central Coast Mariners host Blacktown Spartans.
As always, expect the unexpected as teams jostle for places on what has become one of the most competitive second tier competitions on record.
Northern Tigers FC vs Mounties Wanderers, 6.30pm, Saturday 10 June, North Turramurra Recreation Area
Northern Tigers and Mounties Wanderers will put their wits to the test when they clash in what should be an intriguing Match of the Round at North Turramurra on Saturday.
The Tigers have firmed as Premiership contenders and currently sit in third place on the league ladder. Mounties meanwhile, remain in the hunt a few points behind.
The Tigers last week played a one-all draw with Hills Brumbies, and while coach Mark McCormick was pleased with his team's performance, the Scotsman also believed a draw was probably a fair result.
"It was a good battle, tactical and interesting, with both sides giving their all," McCormick told Football NSW. "What impressed me was the attitude of our players and how hard they worked."
Mounties meanwhile, handed the in-form North Shore Mariners a 5-2 thumping at Valentine Sports Park last Sunday, proving that they have the quality to trouble anyone on any day.
"We were structured well and we finally scored some goals and while it could've been more, it was very good," Mounties coach Lee Sterrey told Football NSW.
"We also signed Tai Smith from Fraser Park last week and it was good to see him score a hat-trick in his first game for us."
Sterrey added that he was happy with his side's character and their ability to step up, especially without ace playmaker Neftali Gonzalez, who could be sidelined by injury for up to six weeks.
"We wanted to show we're still a good football side without him (Gonzalez), so it was pleasing to show we're not a one-man band."
Both coaches are expecting a tough game this weekend and with the competition so close at the moment, points have become vital as the second half of the season rolls on.
"It's going to be a tough game," McCormick told Football NSW. "Mounties had a really good win last week, scoring five goals. And (striker) Tai (Smith) gives them an added edge,.
"They're going to be well drilled and disciplined, which you know you're going to get with Lee Sterrey's teams. They're a different team to the one we beat in Round 2. They're a better team now. The only positive for us might be Nefta is out. On his day he's the best player in the league by a million miles, so that may be a positive for us but they have other players that can hurt us."
Meanwhile, Mounties coach Lee Sterrey said he had a lot of respect for the Tigers and he was expecting a tough battle.
"I've got huge respect for the Northern Tigers as a club. They're a good club, they bring juniors through to first grade, their whole setup's good and they're always one of the strongest clubs in the league," Sterrey said.
"They're a tough nut to crack. They got over us 2-1 first time round, there was nothing in it. But that's football, we weren't taking chances back then, the story of our season thus far. But we're playing them on their home ground and they've got themselves up near the top of the table, so it's going to be a really tough encounter. We're going to be up against it but we're going to give it our best shot."
"At the end of the day Mounties and Northern Tigers are two of the best clubs in the league so I expect a tough tussle and it's going to be a hard day at the office. We're chasing the pack a bit now because we didn't take our opportunities earlier in the year, so every game's a final to us. If we turn up with the same attitude as we did last week, we'll be in with a chance.
"Against the Northern Tigers you always have to be on your game because they just keep coming. They always play for the shirt, and they've always had a lot of ticker, so I've got a lot of respect for them."
Macarthur Rams vs Marconi Stallions, 7pm, Saturday 10 June, Lynwood Park
Macarthur Rams host league leaders Marconi Stallions at Lynwood Park on Saturday night and both teams will be hoping to get their respective seasons back on track after heavy losses last weekend.
Macarthur suffered a 4-0 thrashing at the hands of Spirit FC, while Marconi were humbled 3-1 by a slick Central Coast Mariners outfit in Sunday's Match of the Round.
Macarthur probably couldn't face the Stallions at a worst time, as the Premiership favourites will be hellbent on making amends and proving to new coach Peter Tsekenis that the Mariners' setback was nothing more than a minor hiccup.
But Tsekenis won't be fooled, as he acknowledged after the Mariners' game that his side had shortcomings that needed to be fixed, especially on defence.
"It's obvious we've got some deficiencies in defence, we've been leaking a lot of goals in the last month or so," Tsekenis told Football NSW.
"There's a few deficiencies there and hopefully we can go back to training and really sort them out because they (Central Coast) really hurt us today. We conceded three goals too easily for my liking, so that has to be rectified."
Meanwhile, Macarthur coach Eddie Briscoe was devastated by his side's capitulation to Spirit and his task won't get any easier when Marconi rolls into town.
After going on a six-game unbeaten streak, the Rams have lost their last three matches, but perhaps more worrying is the fact that they haven't scored a goal and have conceded six, including four in last week's thrashing to Spirit FC.
"It was disgraceful and we got done (by Spirit)," Briscoe told Football NSW. "It was four (goals) but it could have been eight or nine in the end."
Marconi beat Macarthur 1-0 when they met in Round 2 and while the Sky Blues dominated the game and created plenty of goal-scoring chances, they just couldn't find the back of the net, even when Rams' Danny Lazarevski was red carded just on the half hour mark.
Will it be a similar scenario this weekend? Given what's at stake, that's probably unlikely. Macarthur will need to be at their very best and have one of those golden nights when everything they touch turns to gold, while they'll also be hoping the Stallions turn up in body but not in mind.
One thing Eddie Briscoe's side can take inspiration from is the fact that, unlike the Stallions, they've managed to beat Central Coast this season - a spectacular 4-2 victory at Lynwood Park in Round 7.
If they can draw inspiration from that win and their six-game streak, who knows where the cards will fall on Saturday night.
St George vs Hills Brumbies, 7pm, Saturday 10 June, Seymour Shaw Park
St George and Hills Brumbies clash at Seymour Shaw Park this Saturday in what promises to be an intriguing matchup.
Saints last weekend put the sword to Blacktown Spartans 3-1, while Hills played an entertaining one-all draw with Northern Tigers.
St George have been something of a dark horse this season, sneaking up the ladder without any fanfare and showing enough grit and determination to hold their own in a league that is fast developing into one of the most competitive on record.
The acquisition of Spanish striker Juan Carlos Romero has been a masterstroke, the rangy Number 9 chiming in with 10 goals and obviously enjoying his new environment and the service provided by his teammates.
Saints coach Terry Palapanis was pleased with last week's performance against Spartans, his understrength side showing enough quality to get the job done.
"We were 3-0 up at halftime and were the better side," Palapanis told Football NSW. "We probably had around 70 per cent possession and could've scored more."
Saints upset the form guide when they beat Hills 2-1 in Round 2, and since then, the side has kept pace with the front-runners of the league, while Hills remain within striking distance just a stone's throw away.
“We didn’t play particularly well (against Hills in the first round) but our attitude was very good and we took our chances," Palapanis said. "Winning when you’re not playing well is always a good thing.
"I think we're playing better as the season progresses. Our passes are sticking, the rotations are working, our combinations are stronger. And as I've said before, we have a knock for scoring goals."
Meanwhile, given their recent vein of rich form, the Brumbies should arrive at Seymour Shaw with plenty of confidence. The Brumbies haven't lost in four outings, including last week's FFA Cup win over Kemblawarra, and they've scored a whopping 13 goals.
Coach Dan Sheppard has done a great job with the newly-promoted side, one that strives to play a good style of football and has really taken the competition by storm.
Looking back to their 2-1 loss to Saints in Round 2, Sheppard said he was disappointed with his side’s performance that day and rued a missed opportunity.
“We didn’t play very well and we were off our game,” Sheppard told Football NSW. “But even though we were off our game we still created chances but couldn’t finish. We missed two open goals and if you can’t score open goals, you’re not going to do much.
“Despite the loss, the character, effort and determination showed by the boys was very good. They didn’t give up and the way they applied themselves was brilliant. It was just the lack of quality that was extremely disappointing.”
Since then, both sides have improved immensely and are among the pace-setters in the league, proving that they're both capable of mixing it in top company.
The Brumbies will have to do it without their ace marksman Peter Cejka who signed a deal with high flying PlayStation4 National Premier Leagues NSW Men’s side Blacktown City FC.
Western Sydney Wanderers vs Bankstown City, 7pm, Saturday 10 June, Sydney United Sports Centre
A confident Western Sydney Wanderers host bottom-placed Bankstown City Lions at Sydney United Sports Centre this Saturday, with the young academy side overwhelming favourites to win in a canter.
Western Sydney last week stole a 4-3 win over Mt Druitt Town Rangers after trailing 3-1 at halftime, a brave performance that delighted coach Trevor Morgan.
The Wanderers hadn't won a game in their previous four outings so for Morgan, the win provided his young charges with an opportunity to enjoy the fruits of their labours.
"I'm pleased for the boys because I don't think we've played all that badly over the past month but we've had a lot of results that have been poor so it was nice for them to go home with a smile on their faces," Morgan told Football NSW. "We had to do something pretty special to get back in the game and it was a little lift by the boys in the second half that was good enough for us."
Despite their lofty standing of second place on the league table, Western Sydney's campaign has been somewhat inconsistent. They've played some spectacular football and dominated possession but for some reason, they've struggled to convert their opportunities into goals.
But last week's comeback against Mt Druitt proved that the Red and Black not only have the ability to dig deep under pressure, they also have the pedigree to hit the target when they need to.
Meanwhile, Bankstown City have been struggling to get off the foot of the table since the competition kicked off way back in March. But despite their predicament, they've played some good football and in some cases, been very unlucky.
Coach Mile Todoroski has done his best to extract as much from his squad as possible, but like the blood from stone analogy, has found the process excruciatingly tough. It's not that the squad is a poor one - far from it - it's just that, in the coach's mind, a team of talented individuals doesn't necessarily make a talented team.
The Lions last week suffered a 1-0 loss to local rivals Bankstown Berries, a match that Todoroski believed his side dominated from start to finish.
"I'm very happy with how the boys perform, how they played, how they're looking like a team wanting to do something for first time in 10 weeks," the wily coach told Football NSW. "How we play, how we fight, how we approach the game, was really serious and we're starting to look like a real team. Before it was some period good and some period bad. Now (against Berries) all game on very good level. Not good football but very strong, very competitive."
When Western Sydney ventured to Jensen Park in Round 2, they tore the heart out of the Lions, slamming home five goals in a stunning 5-1 victory.
If they're at their best, the Wanderers have the potential to repeat the dose this weekend but the Lions shouldn't be underestimated. A wounded beast is often a dangerous one.
Bankstown Berries vs Spirit FC, 7pm, Saturday 10 June, The Crest Athletic Centre
Bankstown Berries host Spirit FC at The Crest on Saturday night in a matchup between two sides desperate for points.
Both teams earned wins last week, with the Berries grinding out a 1-0 victory over local rivals Bankstown City, while Spirit demolished Macarthur 4-0. But they remain in the bottom half of the table, something each of them will want to rectify sometime in the near future.
For a short while the Berries were the talk of the town. They defeated Mounties and Western Sydney on consecutive weekends, but for whatever reason, the wheels fell off and the team suffered a form slump of epic proportions. They lost 5-0 to North Shore Mariners and 4-0 to Mt Druitt, shocking results punctuated by ill-discipline, a toothless attack and leaky defence.
But in between those setbacks, the Berries cut a swathe through the Westfield FFA Cup, knocking off Dulwich Hill and PS4 NPL heavyweights Sydney Olympic. Their league form may have been abysmal, but their Cup form was sublime.
Last week's narrow victory over Bankstown was the Berries' first win in three league outings and while it may not have been pretty, it was enough to get their season back on the straight and narrow.
"We've had a lot of football over the last two weeks and we were playing with ten men for the last half an hour (against Bankstown)," Berries' player coach Perry Moustakas told Football NSW. "The effort from the boys was fantastic and the bond we have between each other is impressive."
Meanwhile, Spirit FC coach David Perkovic was delighted with his side's thrashing of Macarthur, a timely win that boosted their confidence immensely.
When asked what impressed him the most about his side's performance against the Rams, Perkovic replied: "Just how we were able to manage the game with and without the ball. Obviously we haven't been performing too well of late and frustration creeps in quickly so I was pleased that we didn't panic when we didn't have the ball, especially as the game wore on. We got more and more comfortable and didn't rush to get forward too quickly.
"Defensively we were very sound, everything they threw at us we managed well. It was good to keep a clean sheet and to get some goals."
North Shore Mariners vs Mt Druitt Town Rangers, 3pm, Sunday 11 June, Northbridge Oval
North Shore Mariners will be looking at bouncing back quickly from last week's shock 5-2 defeat to Mounties Wanderers when they face Mt Druitt Town Rangers at Northbridge Oval on Sunday.
A fortnight ago the Mariners upset Western Sydney Wanderers 2-1, a result that reinforced the belief that the team from Sydney's lower north shore might just be the real deal, a team that could give the competition a serious shake.
But a week's a long time in sport, and the Mariners slumped to a shocking 5-2 defeat, a setback that coach Joe Haywood would love to move on from very quickly.
But in Mt Druitt they'll be facing a team that, despite last week's 4-3 loss to Western Sydney, has been playing with renewed confidence and vigor.
Mt Druitt coach Aidan Desmond attributed this form to the fact that his side has finally had some consistency of selection, with the availability of key players making a huge difference.
"We've got some consistency in the team that we put on the park week in week out and there's an understanding of what's required," Desmond told Football NSW. "Each individual has a role and they understand how they fit into it."
The return from injury of ace striker Kuag Reec has also lifted morale at the club, his ability to hold the ball and create problems for the opposition inspires his teammates; while other senior players such as Daniel McCann, Carlos Saliadarre, and Matthew Clowes remain the heartbeat of a side that has the ability to trouble anyone.
While Mt Druitt lost to the Wanderers last week, there were a lot of positives to take out of their performance.
They dominated the first 45 minutes, controlling the tempo of the game and creating several opportunities to race out to a 3-1 lead at halftime, only to see Western Sydney storm back for a last-gasp win at the death.
The Mariners meanwhile, will regroup and gain some confidence from the fact that this season they've played some excellent football; dominating teams with their high press and willingness to dig in for their mates. They've pressured teams from start to finish and scored a bagful of goals along the way.
Last week's setback was likely to have been an anomaly, a one-off that's unlikely to be repeated. There's no doubt that Joe Haywood will have his boys focused and ready for battle this weekend.
Central Coast Mariners vs Blacktown Spartans, 3pm, Sunday 11 June, Pluim Park
Central Coast Mariners will be aiming for their sixth win on the trot when they entertain Blacktown Spartans at Pluim Park on Sunday.
The Mariners are in irresistible form and last week's 3-1 victory over league leaders Marconi proved that they have the pedigree to make a serious challenge for Premiership honours.
With Brenton Fox and Duncan Stewart scoring goals by the bucket load, the young Coasters find themselves in third place on the ladder, a remarkable turnaround from a month or so ago when they languished just one spot above dead last.
Central Coast schooled a very experienced Stallions outfit last week, their fluency, pace and creativity proving to be too much for the Sky Blues to handle, while their instinct in front of goal has bagged them an incredible 41 goals so far this season.
As expected, coach Ben Cahn is very happy with the way his young side has emerged as a serious threat to the competition heavyweights.
"Early on in the year we were very fragile and would have lost this game," Cahn said after the win over Marconi. "But we've certainly grown a lot and shown really good maturity levels in the last few weeks.
"Coming away to a side on top of the league - big club, good players - that's a really big result for us."
Meanwhile, Blacktown Spartans continue to struggle and after last week's 3-1 loss to St George, they now sit just one spot above bottom-placed Bankstown City Lions.
The Spartans haven't won since Round 9 and with five consecutive losses, coach Luis Contigiani faces a huge challenge against a brilliant Mariners side that just gets better and better.
Despite his predicament, Contigiani will leave nothing to chance. He'll prepare as always and he'll try to be as positive as he can be with a team of youngsters that has fallen on hard times. A good performance this weekend would go a long way towards giving the Spartans a much-needed lift in spirits
-By Derek Royal, Football NSW reporter