Wipe the sweat from your brow, throw in the singlet and towel, and open up the closet.
It’s time to dust off your jackets and hoodies, parade around in your teams colours and rejoice, the National Premier Leagues 2 NSW Men’s 2019 competition is about to commence!
Okay, Winter may not have yet fallen upon us just yet but that wont stop each club’s faithful to find their favourite club memorabilia and fire up the vocal chords, as come Saturday 2nd March, it is all systems go!
After witnessing Mt Druitt Town Rangers last year, storm their way through the competition and into promotion, which of the 14 teams has what it takes to repeat the feat?
With new additions to the league, from round 1, it’s anyone’s game.
Bonnyrigg White Eagles find themselves with a new test, relegated to the NPL 2 and seeking to redeem themselves by season’s end.
Last year’s Champions St George now face rivalry in close proximity with the addition of St George City. The newcomers, having followed the meteoric rise of Rydalmere, have sights set to continue their rapid rise all the way to the top.
All combatants at the ready, the Championship and Premiership beckon!
Here is a little insight about each club battling it out this season in the NPL 2 Men’s competition.
Blacktown Spartans FC
Last Season: 14th Place – 4 wins, 7 draws, 15 losses – 19 points
Hit the bottom, it’s time to bounce back and up is the way.
Brand new season, brand new coach and an environment that stems from collective positivity.
After last season’s woes, Spartans have recruited Paul Hubbard to lead the charge and already the vibe at the club has shifted from the past to focus on what lays ahead.
“Took over this year, looking to bring a different environment for the season…we have worked hard to bring in new players, we identified those from last year’s squad and then added some new young talent” he said, speaking with Football NSW.
“The environment has been great, we have created this culture between the seniors, 20’s and 18’s…to me any player that is playing well, will play”, he added.
Obviously, the aim is to improve on the efforts from last season, but Hubbard is putting aside talk of end of year predictions and narrowing the focus.
“We don’t set too many goals, more so going into it as game to game but we are confident we have got the balance in the squad to turn over some teams.”
The vibe alone should be enough to lift the spirits of the club and it should result in an exciting season for the fans.
A squad built with a precise blend, is 2019 the year for Spartans to take the league by storm?
Bonnyrigg White Eagles FC
Last Season: 11th Place – 6 wins, 4 draws, 12 losses – 22 points (Relegated from NSW NPL Men’s)
It’s a new season and a new lease of life for the club. A step down into the NPL 2, and you can hear words of the old adage, sometimes you need to take a step back to go forward.
But is it too much for the club to handle?
Well, it’s something that is not on the minds of the players. Nor will it be on the mind of coach Milan Blagojevic. Recognised as one of the top coaches around, the former Socceroo has taken the reigns for 2019 and will be leading the White Eagles through thick and thin, taking it all in one game at a time.
Whilst there is definitely the aim to be up amongst those claiming glory at the end of the season, it’s the journey and focus on consistency that is priority number one.
In keeping with this mindset, the club has resigned many core players from last season and gone about adding and building to an already dangerous outfit.
Time to wait and see this team in flight, will they rise once again?
Canterbury Bankstown FC
Last Season: 10th Place – 8 wins, 5 draws, 13 losses – 29 points
Berries were forced to play with too many on the sidelines last season, hampering the consistency of the squad.
Finally reaching the end of play, the change room would have honestly felt more of a medical ward than a football have.
You cannot blame the Berries, down to just about their last and gave it their all.
So how do you prepare for the season anew, recruit and recruit? Spend the off-season following a strict strength and conditioning regimen?
Well, it seems a little from column A and a little from column B.
Joe DiGuillio has taken the top coaching role for 2019 and many fans will hope it is the revelation needed to forget the pain from last year.
“It’s been a total rebuild…the boys have been training very hard and responding positively”. “We have brought in a new trainer to help minimise the injuries”, he added.
Recruitment at the club was driven hard over the summer and there is the element of youth ready to get stuck in and prove themselves. “Faith in youth this season, encourage them and they really flourish.”
Youth in combination with some experience campaigners, 2019 is beginning positive for the Berries who are prepared to bout for the full season and beyond.
Central Coast Mariners FC
Last Season: 4th Place – 12 wins, 8 draws, 6 losses – 44 points
The task will be and has always been, converting young talent and potential, into players who will perform, round after round.
You could say that the repeated 4th finish and a trip to the finals is justification that they are on track.
But, at the end of 2018, in the eyes of the players, you could see they wanted more.
Central Coast’s youngest and brightest have another tough year ahead of them, with many of the other clubs once again keen to prove a point every time they match up against the yellow and navy.
It’s not only a physical battle, more so, a mental battle the young Mariners will face and with fresh faces in the squad there will be periods of adapting to the non-stop competition.
There should be no questioning the club’s ability to continually develop high quality players through their youth programs and over the last few seasons proven capable of producing results.
Another youthful side yet do not be fooled, these lads can run in this competition and will grab a-hold of any chance that comes their way.
GHFA Spirit FC
Last Season: 7th Place – 11 wins, 5 draws, 10 losses – 38 points
Okay, the renovations are done, the dust is clear, the gloss is beginning to wear. It must feel like “home” again, right?
“Yep, it definitely feels like home, we have had enough time there to bring back the Christie fortress” says head coach David Perkovic.
The re-opening of Christie Park was the only icing on the cake for Spirit last season as they finished within a whisker of finals contention.
Preparation over summer is always a fine art and you would expect Spirit will be back to business when round 1 begins, looking to begin with the form they found at the back of 2018.
“We’ve kept most of our players and reinforced areas to add to squad depth. We have been improving…really looking to pick up where we left off.”
Having coached Spirit for the last couple of seasons, Perkovic’s style and leadership has settled into the core of the squad, it’s time to branch out and achieve the highlights.
“We are going to play an exciting brand of football, but in saying that, good football does not mean anything without points on the table. Definitely our focus is to gain as many points as possible.”
Hills United FC
Last Season: 8th Place – 9 wins, 9 draws, 8 losses – 36 points
New coach and former Central Coast Mariners star defender Patrick Zwaanswijk comes into the league with a lot of anticipation and positivity that 2019 is going to bring a new year of successes for Hills.
Statistically, across the board Hills 2018 results reflected an equal spread. 2019 will be all about spreading those results to favour the ‘W’ column and coach Zwaanswijk has already picked out one key for the new season, “Consistency is one thing to get better at.”
Taking on a new role in an unfamiliar competition may take some getting used to for the big Dutch legend however it’s just another chance to learn and gain experience. “I am curious to witness the vibe and the competition around the league…meet lots of new people which is always good.”
Hills have a focus that goes beyond results on the park, taking on each new challenge as a club in its entirety. Looking to support the amateur clubs in the hills district and create pathways for players and coaches for learn and develop, Zwaanswijk is proud to be a part of it.
His leadership will certainly influence the club to continue striving for growth and insists the core philosophy of the club is driving the players.
“I am leaving a lot to the players, I can only do so much during the game, it’s more what they do before. It is their game, not for us coaches. They can explore and see if they can display in a game context what has been working at sessions.”
Not to say his side will be taking a laxed approach adding, “we don’t want to leave it to luck, be good enough to compete in every game and good enough to get wins playing our style.”
Macarthur Rams FC
Last Season: 12th Place – 4 wins, 7 draws, 15 losses – 19 points
Macarthur escape act from the wooden spoon last season will be remembered fondly by the club’s faithful. It seemed the infamous title was destined to be etched into Rams folklore, however, there was magic in their boots and their late season form skipped them to safety.
No time for slow-starts this year. If there ever was time for a fresh start, it’s now.
Signing former coach Claudio Canosa, the club has signalled its intent. Securing a host of core players, the club has set its sights on climbing the ladder and reaching the top rungs.
Canosa’s return appointment will likely bring life to the side that was too often stale and let results fall wayward around them.
With all dials set back to even, the Rams will be hoping there is a little magic left in their boots to kickstart the campaign and set them on their way.
Mounties Wanderers FC
Last Season: 6th Place – 11 wins, 5 draws, 10 losses – 38 points (Runners-Up)
Who could have picked the Mounties run last season?
Weaving with precision through mid-table, crashing the Premiers party, then polishing their dancing shoes for one last number in the big dance. Impressive to say the least.
To fall short in a shootout hurts, especially when it’s for the Championship.
So is it vengeance in 2019? Or is another plan afoot?
Having secured the services of renowned coach Brian Brown and recruited players with experience in the tiers above, the intention of the club is clear.
“We have been doing a lot of hard work at training, as much as doing the work, playing games and competitive games the players are looking forward to.”
Having moved on from his time at Bonnyrigg White Eagles, it’s now in the past and the future is the focus for Brown and the Mounties. Step one will be to improve again on what can be deemed as a successful season in 2018. So what’s the target?
“The top of the table or near the top of the table, just about us improving and going forward…I think the club is going to be in a good place this year so hopefully we can win some trophies to go with that.”
There is a feeling going around that the club has solidified itself as a heavy hitter in the league and perhaps a few targets have been placed.
“You could say that, but it is quite clear for us that we just want to get better, whatever that brings with that” plays down Brown.
“You play sport to win, especially at this level and that’s the intention. I think part of that you have got to respect your opponents, there a lot of good teams in this competition and it will be a challenge for everyone this year.”
North Shore Mariners FC
Last Season: 3rd Place – 13 wins, 6 draws, 7 losses – 45 points
The Mariners from North Shore won’t get the roar of a home crowd until round 5 this season. It’s a familiar story, with the summer ball game claiming precedence during the first few rounds.
Combine this with the resurfacing of the pitch, which has faced delays by council, it’s not exactly the summer the club was hoping for.
Yet, for coach Joe Haywood, there is always something to look forward to and getting back into the football grind is the perfect remedy.
“Our training schedule has been a bit up in the air, but despite this the boys and the clubs staff have kept their heads down and worked hard.”
“Always have that every year, normally in cricket mode…really nothing too different for us, it will be exciting getting onto our new field.”
Out on the road could prove to be early profits if they pick up some wins, knowing that the return to old faithful is just round the corner. 3rd place from last season has set their benchmark, but with the addition of new teams and new faces, it may prove a different task in 2019.
“It will be competitive and I think it may be one of the most competitive leagues in the state if not the country. Teams able to capture promotion or face relegation, makes both ends of the league interesting.”
With another season under the belt and recruitment going to plan, they have set their foundations for the task ahead. We will have to wait and see if there will be celebrations of glory at their newly polished fortress.
Northern Tigers FC
Last Season: 5th Place – 10 wins, 9 draws, 7 losses – 39 points
Sharp in attack and solid at the back.
The side from the northern suburbs is said to always bring the competition and you can be sure in 2019, the Tigers will be keen to bring more.
Jason Eagar will be a prominent figure at the club once again, this season he returns to head of football at the club. The role offering some time away from the sidelines to oversee proceedings and is pleased with how things are shaping up.
“There is not going to be too much different, a few twist in terms of the way we do things, but you relish another 12 months of experience for the squad and the young boys who got some first grade exposure last season.”
“Boys are very confident in their ability… some things are not going to go your way, injuries, suspensions, so you prepare and adapt as best you can.”
Over the years, the Tigers have become known around the league for their fierce competitive streak, something Eagar mentions has brewed naturally through the collective desire of the squad.
“I think the boys take a lot of credit, the way they play for each other and always have. Function of the club, a lot of boys coming through and seeing the seniors and wanting to be a part of it. Some clubs may not have this….I think it’s nice to be considered tough to beat, but there are a lot of teams in this competition that are tough to beat.”
2019 will tell if this Tigers squad is once again, tough to beat.
Rydalmere Lions FC
Last Season: 9th Place – 10 wins, 5 draws, 11 losses – 35 points
2018 was a gruelling season for the young Lions squad, who fought admirably but ultimately fell agonisingly short of a finals berth.
They say, experience makes you wise.
12 months, is it enough for this young core to have licked their wounds and found the might to bury their opponents?
Incoming coach Chris Camilleri is full of enthusiasm and positivity that Rydalmere have what it takes to match it with entire league.
“Some good results over the pre-season, nice string of hit-outs, earning some experience for the youngsters”. “Hard to show what your plan is, it could come and bite you come round 1”, he added.
The side will again feature a youthful core, but don’t let the young faces fool you, these lads can play and will be ready to prove their worth come round 1.
“It’s a young energetic team and we’ve been known to score goals. We’re going to tighten up the defence.”
Key qualities that often lead to title winning teams. It will be a hard slog again but Camilleri is confident he has kept the task ahead clear and simple.
“Passion, brothers, winning. To an extent, defines what we are trying to do.”
St George City FA
Last Season: 1st Place – 18 wins, 5 draws, 3 losses – 59 points (Promoted from NSW NPL 3)
New kids on the block, literally.
Having only formed in 2016, the club has rapidly risen through the NSW NPL Men’s divisions. It is a collective effort from the entire club that seeks to provide a pathway for many aspiring players in their area.
Securing the services of Manny Spanoudakis as head coach will be a boost for the new boys as they make the transition into one of the most hotly contested leagues.
Talk of if they can continue the climb up the divisions has been met with a realistic outlook. Spanoudakis reeling in the ambitions, “be pragmatic in what we do, respectable showing for ourselves and the fans. “Consolidate stay away from the bottom 3” he continued.
The club’s arrival in the league has also sparked whispers of rivalry with St George FC, who Spanoudakis led to NPL top tier promotion during the 2013 season.
The hype though is being played down to a mere whisper as at the end of the day “it’s just a football game”.
“Personally not going to get involved. We are a community team we know our place, not getting ahead of ourselves. Think the derby will be great, they are the current champions, respect them as that.”
In the transition to life in a new competition the club is poised well and you would expect to see a contemporary take on the game with fluidity, calmness in possession and attack from this outfit.
Having solidified their playing resources and in combination with a coaching talent pool deep with representative pedigree on a national and international level, the new kids on the block look like they are here to stay.
St George FC
Last Season: 2nd Place – 14 wins, 4 draws, 8 losses – 46 points (Champions)
Without a doubt, heavy hitters St George will be aiming to grab the league with both hands and clear all those who lay before them.
Having the wonders of success is great, but it can also come at a cost. Having lost some players to top tier NPL clubs, St George find themselves missing some key cogs that were influential last season, now questioning the task if they have what it takes to repeat the feat from 2018.
Speaking with head coach Wally Savor, “We’re in a bit of a rebuilding phase…It’s a bit too early to say, our ambitions are to be there again”
The club now face close rivalry with St George City stepping into the fray, however, Savor stating “For us, just another club and another 3 points on the table. Bragging rights when you win, but really it’s about the 3 points.”
A club that banged in goals for fun last year, has gone about tightening up their defence in the quest to defend their title.
“Work really hard.”
Simple, yet effective, Savor and his men from St George are going to keep their heads away from the headlines until the final day is done.
Western Sydney Wanderers FC
Last Season: 11th Place – 7 wins, 5 draws, 14 losses – 26 points
If the boys in red and black can string together the sparks of form from last season, combined with maintaining the core unit, they will be a tough competitor.
Too often last season they were plagued by injury, then there is the matter of call-ups to contend with too. The latter though, can be looked at with positivity as the signs are there the club is producing young talent capable of performing at the elite level.
For coach Arthur Diles, a place in the league goes beyond the results on the pitch. “Since our inception in the league (NPL 2) it has been a great pathway and a springboard for players to then go onto the first team.”
The lads who throw on the red and black hoops will always be under scrutiny from eyes all around the league, but with Diles leadership, they will be tough competitors and up for any challenge that gets thrown their way.
We have a full season ahead to pick out the best of the next batch of promising youngsters, all relishing their chance to go head to head with the big lads and prove themselves worthy of a tap on the shoulder and chance in the big league.
Source FNSW website
Round 1 Fixtures
Saturday 2nd March
Blacktown Spartans v Bonnyrigg WE – Blacktown Football Park 7pm
GHFA Spirit FC v St George City FA – Christie Park 7pm
St George FC v Central Coast Mariners Academy – Illinden Sports Centre 7pm
Hills United v Rydalmere Lions FC – Lily Homes Stadium 7pm
Northern Tigers v Macarthur Rams – North Turramurra Recreation Area No1 – 7pm