Season 2018 threw up another rollercoaster ride of thrills and spills in the NEWFM Northern League One including multiple surprises, dramatic finishes and an on-the-edge of your seat race to the finals series. All eleven teams from 2017 returned to the competition once again, and although three of last year’s four semi-finalists featured there once again, the competition as a whole very much differed from that of its predecessor.
Cooks Hill United – PREMIERS
For the second year in a row, Cooks Hill proved to be one step ahead of the rest and this year they finished with an incredible 16-point buffer between themselves and Thornton in second. At the beginning of the season, coach Graham Law was determined to make sure their home ground, the AthField, was a fortress, and that’s exactly what it became as the side only dropped points in one match there all year. From Round 2, the Cookers sat on the top of the table right through until the end, and in highlighting just how great their season was, the club had four men named in the Team of the Year as well. Goalkeeper Jake Hamilton and captain Daniel Johnson were both named, as too were their attacking guns and the top two goal-scorers in the league, Lee Ashton and Golden Boot winner Nick Russell. Despite their dominance though, the Cookers came up against a gritty, in-form Belswans team and the side bowed out 4-1 on aggregate being denied the chance to fight for a second straight championship.
Thornton Redbacks – 2nd
With so many fresh faces joining the club in 2018, many thought it would take time for everyone to gel, but right from the word ‘go’, Thornton highlighted themselves as a cohesive unit and spent the majority of the year inside the top four. Young forward Jye MacKellar starred early on, as did other new men Trent Partridge and Sam Rossi, however, things started to stall for the Redbacks late in the season and it resulted in a frantic fight for finals that went all the way to the last round. The Redbacks fell agonisingly short of a maiden Grand Final after being knocked out by a determined West Wallsend side, leaving them with a disappointing feeling of what might have been. Regardless of their semi-final exit though, their strong, young squad will only continue to improve and will definitely once again be a force to be reckoned with in 2019.
West Wallsend Bluebells – 3rd
Arguably the big surprise package of the year, West Wallsend made a terrific return to the finals despite long-looking as though they’d finish mid-table. The Bluebells traded wins and losses throughout the year and struggled to find some form of consistency until the final weeks where they managed five wins from their last six games. Although the side lost eight times during the year, the most a top four side has ever recorded since 2014, they ended the year with the second most wins including two against fierce rivals Wallsend. Captain Jarrod Olivieri showed his power right throughout the season, and youngsters Bailey Jensen and Bailey Maxton were a constant threat in attack. The Bluebells defeated Thornton in an extremely close semi-final encounter to qualify for their first Grand Final in 11 years, however, they weren’t able to conquer an experienced Belswans and went down gallantly 4-2 in the Grand Final.
Belmont-Swansea United – 4th & CHAMPIONS
It was a tale of two halves this season for Belswans. After spending the first half of the year down near the bottom of the table with just one victory recorded, incredibly, they found themselves pushing for a top two spot by the end of the season with the help of a 13-game unbeaten run. Although their attack struggled and proved to be the third-worst in the league, their solid defence, in particular, Reece Newton and Corey Wilson, won them vital points and stood to be the best in the competition. It took a tremendous comeback to qualify for the finals, and their undefeated home record helped in accomplishing that. They took their great form into the semi-finals and manage to cause a major upset over defending champions and premiers Cooks Hill winning 4-1 on aggregate in a tense and heated fixture to progress to their third straight Grand Final. There they met West Wallsend and once again showed their class winning 4-2 and winning their first championship in 32 years.
South Cardiff Gunners – 5th
It was a case of ‘so close, yet so far’ for the Gunners this season as they fell just short of the finals after losing in the final regular season match to Thornton. Bouncing in and out of the top four throughout the entire season, consistency proved to be their issue as they managed to grab results against the top sides but struggled against sides below them on the ladder – they were the only team in the league who didn’t suffer a loss at the hands of Cooks Hill, but also couldn’t muster any victories against the likes of Cessnock, Wallsend and Singleton. Nathan McCallister and Troy Runge were great up front, as was defender Cameron Herring who proved difficult for opposition attackers and was the only member of the Gunners featured in the Team of the Year. Having run in fifth for the second year in a row, the Gunners will need to work hard in the off-season if they want to feature in finals in 2019.
Wallsend FC – 6th
If Wallsend defended as well as they attacked, 2018 would have proven a more successful season, but painfully for the side, they fell just short of a semi-finals return following poor results in the last few matches. It took seven weeks for the Red Devils to finally lose, but once they did, they suffered a four-game losing streak and their momentum never recovered. This year the team added forward Ty Goldsmith to their ranks, who managed to score a fantastic 17 goals in just his first season in the league, helping his side to possess the league’s second-best attacking record and inserting himself into the Team of the Year. However, simultaneously they also attained the third-worst defence. Injuries also played a factor in Wallsend’s season and forced multiple youngsters up into 1st Grade. Bolstering their squad will need to be a focus next season in order to enjoy the same amount depth that the top four possess.
Singleton Strikers – 7th
Singleton was a side that many tipped to flounder around the bottom of the table again, but after an undergoing a mid-season undefeated streak, the Strikers stunningly sat in equal-second at the half-way point sparking hopes of a maiden top-four finish. Unfortunately, though, injuries and player unavailability took its toll on the side, and due to their lack of depth, their results suffered leaving them six points adrift of a finals spot. Statically, this year’s Singleton defence was the best in club history, only conceding 29 goals. Jordan Phelan played a huge part in achieving that leading to him being named in the Team of the Year, but their offence was second-worst in the competition and ultimately hindered any chances of progressing. Although the side missed out on finals once again, they proved this season that they can succeed when fully fit and may once again trouble the top of the league with more added depth in 2019.
Cessnock City Hornets – 8th
With a whole new squad including new coach Brendan Slade and a bunch of NPL experienced players, Cessnock made great strides to progress on from the side that failed to win a game in 2017. They knocked on the door of the top four all season but just didn’t have what it took to consistently perform in the matches that mattered. After entertaining a four-game unbeaten streak to start the season, the club then won only one match from their next nine and finished off the year trading triumphs and defeats. Former Weston Bears captain Greg Anderson, who was also named in the Team of the Year, brought strength and leadership to the backline and it helped in cutting their conceded goals almost in half from the year before. Having spent most their time in competition history squandering around the bottom of the ladder, it was refreshing to see the Hornets perform rather admirably.
New Lambton FC – 9th
It looked to be a promising year for the Eagles with so much young talent coming through the ranks, but a slow, struggling start derail the side, and despite showcasing some renewed performances midway through the year under newly appointed Head Coach Jim Foley, their lack of experience seemed to be their downfall. The club only won one match in their first 10 weeks, but despite that, winger Riley Taylor excelled and was leading the Golden Boot tally until an injury ended his season. The club was remarkably kept scoreless on just one occasion, however, their defence let them down. They didn’t manage a single clean sheet throughout the season and conceded an average of almost three goals a game. Regardless of their bumpy season, Jim Foley and New Lambton looked to have already started building stepping stones for their young team to achieve success in the not too distant future.
Kahibah FC – 10th
Having qualified for the semi-finals in all three seasons they’ve been in the competition, Kahibah looked like they’d once again push for championship contention, but a large number of injuries, inferior defence and an inability to win close games, saw them finish second from the bottom. Disaster struck early on for the club when their star goalkeeper Nick Hartnett went down with a ruptured ACL, and reliable defender Heath Kepreotas and whizzy attacker Jamie Hadlow both also missed the majority of the season. Their new additions Asher Beasley and German import Tom Butzmann showed sparks of their class throughout the year but unfortunately weren’t able to consistently display those qualities. Amazingly though, Kahibah only experienced one game in which they lost by three goals – the rest were one or two goal margins. Had some of those close encounters fallen in their favour, it may have been a different story for the Green and Blacks.
Toronto Awaba Stags – 11th
To say 2018 was a disappointing campaign for Toronto may be an understatement as the club finished six points under in last, with just two wins and the worst defence, conceding a massive total of 95 goals. The club’s first half of the season saw them pick up points against top teams, but after the resignation of their Head Coach Adam Rutledge, defensive leader Blake Glennie took the reins and unfortunately their defence suffered. The Stags finished the season on an eleven-game losing streak and became the first team in over two decades to concede double digits score-lines on three separate occasions in a single season. Despite that, attackers Nick Roberts and Jarrod Penfold shone in the front third, as did youngster Connor Thorpe in the midfield. Throughout the difficult year, many youngsters were given the chance and stepped up honourably, and the youth players coming through the ranks will only be stronger for the challenges experienced.