Competitions

NPL Northern NSW – 2018 Season Preview

March 13th, 2018
PHOTO: SPROULE SPORTS FOCUS

Declan Payne

The 2018 National Premier Leagues (NPL) Northern NSW competition is ready to kick off this weekend and it’s shaping up to be the toughest competition yet with a lot of movement between the clubs.

It has only been just over five months since Lambton Jaffas triumphed over Northern NSW (NNSW) heavyweights Edgeworth in the 2017 NPL NNSW Grand Final. Edgeworth will be looking to bounce back from last season’s grand final heartache, but will no doubt be confident of building on the successes of the previous season which included a third consecutive premiership, and a spot in the FFA Cup Round of 32 for the third year running.

If their grand final win hadn’t upset the status quo enough, Lambton are back and better than ever this year with a point to prove, and with the experience within their ranks there are high hopes Jaffas can make further waves in the competition.

Maitland have former Hamilton Olympic coach Mick Bolch at the helm and are expected to compete after some strong recruiting, while Hamilton and Broadmeadow are always a threat in this league and should always be expected to be in the mix for honours come season’s end.

Valentine just missed out on finals football last season and will hope to kick on to bigger and better things this season, and after attracting some of the biggest names in Newcastle football to the club, Charlestown are shaping up as a potential one to watch this season.

Lakes will be looking to build on a strong first season back in the top flight in 2018, while Adamstown, Jets Youth, and Weston know they need to dig in and improve on last season’s efforts.

You can catch all of the matches live on BarTV this season over on YouTube, with select matches being shown live on Facebook – the Northern NSW Football experts in Ben Homer, Chris Turner and Damien Smith are back on board and will be there to help guide you through the highs and lows of 2018.

 

Edgeworth Eagles
Last Year: 1st (Lost Grand Final 2-0)
Coach: Damien Zane

Ins: Jamie Byrnes, Jacob Golding (both Weston), Mitch Dobson, Tyson Jackson (both Jets Youth), Liam Spurway

Outs: Keanu Moore (Kingston City), Brody Taylor, Ayden Brice (both Melbourne Knights), Kieran Sanders (Brisbane Olympic), Bren Hammel (Lambton), Keigo Moriyasu (JPV Marikina)

Edgeworth came oh-so-close to completing the first ‘triple-double’ (winning the premiership and championship in three consecutive years) in Northern NSW Football’s (NNSWF) top flight football, since Weston managed it back in the early seventies, but were denied the chance to do so by two extra-time goals which secured the 2017 championship for Lambton.

The Eagles have a tougher task ahead of them than ever before in their quest to make it four premierships in a row – a feat achieved only by Hamilton and Weston in years gone by. There has been a significant turnover in their squad compared to past years, but this is something which may, in fact, help Edgeworth this season.

It is a new look line up at Edgeworth after teams both near and far have been in and poached some of the Eagles’ best talent. Keanu Moore returns to the Victorian NPL along with moves south for Brody Taylor and Ayden Brice, while last year’s English revelation Kieran Sanders has returned to Queensland to pursue further study opportunities and Bren Hammel has headed to Lambton.

It’s hard to find a weak spot from Edgeworth’s statistics last year – the second most potent attacking team in the competition, and the best defensively. Departures in key areas may provide a challenge to the depth, but the injection of youth in the form of Jacob Golding, Mitch Dobson and Tyson Jackson, in particular, may bring a new type of enthusiasm to the Eagles in 2018.

What Damien Zane says:

“With the departures and a bit of a new look team, we’ve already said this feels like we’re going for our first because of the hunger from the boys who have come in that haven’t won anything. It feels like a new group, it feels like the first year where we were hungry and going for our first. Last year it was tough getting players up, it seemed a bit monotonous.”

“We’ve got a few young boys who didn’t work out at other clubs, and boys who want to win things, we won’t have a problem getting up but other teams will want to knock us off the perch. Obviously you don’t lose five or six players and just replace them, but I’ve never been concerned, we’ve got some young boys who are now experienced players and if I need to resort to playing my first eleven every week, then we’ve got one of the best teams in the league still.”

 

Hamilton Olympic
Last Year: 2nd
Coach: Peter McGuinness

Ins: Stuart Musalik (Adamstown), Scott Pettit (Broadmeadow), Jarryd Sutherland, Jake McGuinness, Jed Honery (all Mariners Youth), Simon Mooney (travelling), Leo Bertos (retirement), Rhyan Smith (Jets Youth)

Outs: Andrew Swan, Mat Swan (both Maitland) Kane Goodchild, Scott Smith, Grant Brown (all Charlestown), Marcus Duncan (Lambton), Daniel Bird

It’s in with the new at Hamilton, in a manner of speaking. Coach for the last eight years, Mick Bolch, is out with former Adamstown Rosebud boss Peter McGuinness back at the club for the first time since his playing days in the early 2000s.

It’s not just in the dugout where the changes are plentiful, but on the pitch too with a host of Olympic mainstays on the way out. The Swan brothers Mat and Andrew, Kane Goodchild and Scott Smith head the names on the outgoings list, with each heading to divisional rivals.

The incomings make for happy reading for Olympic fans though, with former Newcastle Jet Stuart Musalik following McGuinness across from Adamstown. Jacob Bailey is back from injury and Simon Mooney is back in Olympic blue, while two former Olympic youth players in Jarryd Sutherland and Jake McGuinness return to the club.

Pipped to the premiership in a tight race last year, and then knocked out in the semi-finals to eventual winners Lambton, Hamilton have it all to prove this season. The loss of Goodchild and Smith equals more than half of Olympic’s goals scored last season, and leaves a void to fill at Darling Street.

What Peter McGuinness says:

“It’s a matter of in with the new, because it’s a new group and a different way of how to do things, different coach, different thoughts, different stuff during training. I think the players who have come in are good footballers, some of them are experienced and some are young but still have a lot of experience, a couple in the NPL2 in Sydney for a while, and it will all determine on how quickly we gel as a group.”

“It will be interesting to see how we can perform week in and week out. There are goals in a number of players, the way we’ll play will help us create chances and any one of those in the front five can score. There’s goals in Scott Pettit, Simon Mooney, Leo Bertos, Jed Honery, and I think Rhys Cooper can get a couple from midfield too.”

 

Lambton Jaffas
Last Year: 3rd (Won Grand Final 2-0)
Coach: James Pascoe

Ins: Cade Mapu (Mariners Youth), Bren Hammel (Edgeworth), Marcus Duncan (Bentleigh Greens)
Outs: Nathan Morris, Jackson Burtson (both Weston), Rhys Tippett (retired), Riley McNaughton, Danny Ireland (both Charlestown)

It was a defeat to Maitland in the penultimate round of last season’s competition which ultimately denied Jaffas a shot at second place and the chance to put more pressure on eventual premiers Edgeworth, but they made up for it with a stunning extra-time win over the Eagles in a 2-0 grand final win.

An already star-studded Jaffas line up has only gotten stronger this year. Both the Griffiths brothers are back, former Jets captain Jobe Wheelhouse is slowly making his way back from an ankle surgery in December, while former Central Coast Mariners youth talent Cade Mapu has also linked up with the Jaffas this season.

It’s this kind of attacking firepower which helped Lambton to the heights they hit last season. The Jaffas scored 50 goals in the league last season at an average of 2.5 per game, with Pat Brown and Joel Griffiths both hitting double digits in 2017.

The loss of Nathan Morris, who has returned to his old stomping ground at Weston, leaves a hole in Lambton’s defence which conceded the most goals, 29, of any of the sides which finished inside the top four last season. Marcus Duncan has left Bentleigh Greens to link up with Pascoe, who is likely to turn within and look to youth to add even more depth to the position.

What James Pascoe says:

“We’ll be there or thereabouts, the squad’s pretty similar, the boys that are available at the minute I’d say will be better than at the same stage last year. We don’t have the depth in the squad at this stage that we had last year, so injuries and injury management and prevention could hurt us if things go against us.”

“Both Griffiths (Joel and Ryan) boys are back playing again, Jobe (Wheelhouse) has just had a clearance so he’s had the boots back on this week… hopefully, about round five we might see Jobe available. We’ve got a bit of flexibility in the boys we’ve got, the likes of Michael Kantarovski can play in the middle or at the back, but we do need an extra body or two.”

 

Broadmeadow Magic
Last Year: 4th
Coach: Ruben Zadkovich

Ins: Paul Bitz (Adamstown), Justin Broadley (Lakes), John Marjuovski (Newcastle Suns), Cody Carroll (Jets Youth), Jonty Busch (Dubbo)

Outs: Peter Haynes (retired), Scott Pettit (Hamilton), Tom Beecham (Jets Youth), Mitch Oxborrow (Brisbane Roar), Niko Giantsopolous (Launceston City), Scott Robertson (Inglewood United), Ben Higgins (Adamstown)

It was heartbreak for Magic last season in the second leg of their semi-final after clawing back to knock over premiers Edgeworth 2-1 to bring the score back to 2-all, only to go out on penalties and miss out on a grand final match-up with Lambton. It was a massive turnaround from an up-and-down start to the season for Broadmeadow, who stormed home with nine wins from their last nine regular season matches of the season.

It’s a Magic squad without Peter Haynes for the first time in recent memory; but the resigning of Dino Fajkovic who had previously left to link up with brother Denis at South Cardiff and capture of journeyman striker John Marjurvoski, who helped Magic to a win in the pre-season Maso Cup in January, will help alleviate that loss and add some attacking firepower.

There are new signings elsewhere for Broadmeadow, with youngster Tom Beecham, Jonty Busch and Cody Carroll heading to Magic Park this season. Justin Broadley joins from Lakes, while former Adamstown keeper Paul Bitz is another new face who will add depth to the Magic squad. There is bad news for Magic though – star midfielder Alex Kantarovski is struggling with a knee injury, which coach Ruben Zadkovich fears could keep him out for the season.

If there’s one aspect of 2017 which Magic will be keen to kick on with this season, it’s that stunning run of form at the back end of the season which helped them pip Valentine and Maitland to a finals spot.

What Ruben Zadkovich says:

“It’s hard to say where we’ll be at season’s end, definitely in the mix. Broadmeadow Magic are one of the premier clubs in the competition and despite not having the budget of some of the other teams we certainly attract good quality players to our club, and I think that’s down to the type of players we’ve had at the club for a long time.”

“We’re missing some of those real star players like the Griffiths boys, but we have a real good bunch of boys with a bit of experience, quality strikers and some young talent coming through. We’ve kept our squad nice and balanced, we’ll definitely be in the mix and it’s hard to say early days where I think we’ll be; but we’ll be aiming to win things.”

 

Valentine Phoenix
Last Year: 5th
Coach: Darren Sills

Ins: Christian Kershaw (Marshall University), Zac Sneddon (America), Shinji Shozu (Agila MSA), Daniel Ott

Outs: Jalon Brown, Caleb Faulkner (both America), Daniel Minors (Charlestown), Scott McGinley, Matt Paul

Tipped not to pull up any trees in last season’s campaign, Valentine came so close to their first finals appearance, missing out on the playoff places by only four points thanks in part to the fantastic form of American striker Jalon Brown.

Brown has returned to America, and with him goes over a third of all the goals Phoenix scored in 2017. Valentine have recruited former NPL NSW striker Daniel Ott in order to fill the void, along with Japanese midfielder Shinji Shozu to add creativity in the middle of the park.

Former captain Scott McGinley is another on the departures list from Valentine, but the return of Zac Sneddon from a year at college in the US will give Darren Sills’ side some depth. The youngster is capable of playing as a central midfielder or defender, and along with now-captain Reece Pettit may be vital in improving things at the back this season.

It’s the big matches where Valentine will have to step up this season if they’re to win the type of points required to make finals football. In games against the top four last seasons, Phoenix only won two out of eight.

This season will also see a move to Phoenix’s junior grounds at Croudace Bay Complex, putting an end to the years of woe they’ve experienced after sharing Cahill Oval with cricket and rugby league.

What Darren Sills says:

“(Jalon) was an out and out striker, a facing-forward striker. Now we have a back-to-goal facing striker now which means we have to have runners off him, which makes it a little more difficult. At this stage not so confident we can fill that void, but last year we were tipped to finish last and it’s the same this year, we use that stuff and try to prove people wrong.”

“I don’t know too many people that look backwards and successfully go forwards, so we’re not looking back too much but at the same time we’re trying to use going so close as motivation and hopefully we can do one better this year.”

 

Maitland FC
Last Year: 6th
Coach: Mick Bolch

Ins: Andrew Swan, Mat Swan, Grant Brown (all Hamilton) Alex Read (Valentine), James Thompson, Zac Thomas (both Weston)

Outs: Shane Cansdell-Sherriff (retired), Sam Rossi (Cessnock) Jordan Elphick, Matt Sokulsky (both Adamstown) Ryan Broadley, Blake Thompson (travelling) Jye McKellar (Thornton), Zac Hill (work commitments), Ben Martin

After being dealt with a horrific wet weather hand to start the 2017 season, Maitland didn’t play their first match until nearly four weeks after the start of the competition and never really got up to pace with the rest of the competition. With a strong pre-season and some positive weather forecast, the Magpies will be confident of getting their 2018 off to a much better start.

Maitland are graced with a wealth of new blood both in the technical area and on the pitch after the signing of Hamilton Olympic coach Mick Bolch helped attract midfield maestros Andrew and Mat Swan from his former club. Former Thornton Redbacks coach Darrel McAllister also joins the side as assistant manager.

Former North Queensland Fury and Maitland boy Alex Read joins too, with key players such as Matt Thompson and Matt Comerford remaining at the club for 2018. As a result, the Magpies will expect this to be a squad which will be right in the mix for honours at season’s end.

The outgoings are primarily at the back end of the pitch with Shane Cansdell-Sherriff the big name to depart Cooks Square Park, who is now in the dugout at Adamstown. Blake Thompson, Sam Rossi, Jordan Elphick and Zac Hill are also among the outs from the defensive line.

Maitland had the best goal difference of any side outside last season’s top four and the third-best attack in the league overall. But the Magpies struggled to beat the ‘big boys’ last year with only two wins from eight matches against sides in the top four. One of those, however, was the 7-0 drubbing of Broadmeadow back in May. If they can win the big games, the Magpies may be in for a strong season.

What Mick Bolch says:

“Competition for spots is fairly good at the moment, we’ve retained a core eight or nine first graders from last year who we wanted to retain, and then we’ve added five or six first graders to that so we’ve got a good group of fourteen or fifteen. We’ve got a good six defenders fighting for four spots, five midfielders fighting for three spots and five strikers fighting for three spots, it’s a really good mix at the moment.”

“It’s definitely our goal to make the top four this year, I think the squad has got enough there and that’s our objective, to make that top four… it’s good having Darrel (McAllister), we’ve got a lot of similar ideas and it’s good having two sets of eyes and two sets of ideas.”

 

Lake Macquarie City
Last Year: 7th
Coach: Nick Webb

Ins: Cameron Holzheimer, Mitchell Hunter, Harry Lane, Riley Hill (all Adamstown), Paul Sichalwe (Broadmeadow), Campbell Ross (Jets Youth), Mark Finlayson (Valentine), Josh Casey (New Lambton)

Outs: Benn Kelly (Adamstown), Justin Broadley (Broadmeadow), Tom Smart (Charlestown), Blake Green (Hamilton), Matt Toohey (not playing)

The latest team to be promoted to the NPL NNSW, Lakes had a solid season in 2017, back in the top flight but are looking to do better for 2018. They finished seventh, the first of the rest of the trailing pack with some eight points behind the next best-placed side, Maitland.

It’s a young side at Lakes this season, with four players following Webb across from Adamstown and a number of youngsters coming from elsewhere in the league. The injection of youth into the side is likely to bring a new dynamic to the side this year, with a keen enthusiasm and uptick in speed welcome positives for any club.

Josh Casey is one of the more interesting signings, coming in after an impressive season with New Lambton in the Northern League One last year, how he handles the step up to NPL level will be interesting viewing.

The influx of youth is in contrast to some of the experience which has departed the club. Justin Broadley and Matt Toohey are two of the more experienced on-field leaders who have left, while Benn Kelly has also moved on.

Looking at the Lakes side of 2017, there aren’t any glaring deficiencies and that is sure to be encouraging for coach Nick Webb. Sam Walker up front will be required to at least match his 12 goals from last season, which may help Lakes take the three points more often – last year they drew five times, the highest in the league.

What Nick Webb says:

“I think having a younger group this season will bring a bit of speed and enthusiasm, the game is becoming younger and you have to be quicker at everything you do and although they’re young, most of them have been playing first grade for a year, two, or more, so they’re not green as such but they’ve all got a fair bit to prove.”

“That’s something which we’ll begin to see filtering through a lot of sides, and at the end of the day if they’re good enough they’re old enough. We’re looking pretty good so far, we’ll know more over the next few weeks as to how we’re going, it’s been a pretty good pre-season so far, we’ve got the Heritage Cup this weekend, and then Magic to kick off the season.”

 

Charlestown City Blues
Last Year: 8th
Coach: David Tanchevski

Ins: Ljubo Milicevic (Dandenong Thunder), Kane Goodchild, Scott Smith, Danny Ireland (all Hamilton), Daniel Minors (Valentine), Riley McNaughton (Lambton), Tom Smart (Lakes), Stuart Plant (Singleton), Cal Lewis (Cooks Hill)

Outs: Josh Maguire (Weston), Nathan Archbold (Brisbane Strikers), Josh Small, Todd McSorley

After a number of below-average years since a semi-final run back in 2014, Charlestown under the guidance of David Tanchevski will be looking to make a run on the finals this season – and he’s recruited the players to make sure they’ll be around any conversation come season’s end.

The big name signings don’t stop at the Blues – first, it was the announcement of last year’s Golden Boot winner Kane Goodchild and long-time strike partner Scott Smith returning to the club from Hamilton, soon after joined by defender Grant Brown who chose to link up with his old boss Tanchevski.

Undoubtedly the biggest name on the incomings list is that of former Socceroo Ljubo Milicevic, who played last season for Dandenong Thunder in the Victorian NPL2 competition. Milicevic has already expressed his desire to help the Blues become title contenders, and Charlestown fans will be hoping he can do just that.

Last season, goals were the issue for Charlestown – they scored just 25 in 20 league matches, the second lowest behind last-placed Weston. Tanchevski will be relying on Smith and Goodchild up front to boost those numbers while ensuring the likes of Brown and Milicevic at the back can help keep things tight.

What David Tanchevski says:

“I’m expecting a rebuilding, this season, we’ve had a pretty heavily interrupted pre-season with six or seven first graders out every single trial game and we haven’t been able to put the same team on the park two times in a row. We’ve had no chance at continuity at the moment, so the first six or seven matches of the season we’ll be happy to get some regularity in there and play the same team a few weeks in a row.”

“We’re hoping to keep the boys together for a couple of years and build that into a strong squad for the next couple of years and aim for that top four spot. We’ve got a good squad of 16 guys, a good bunch of lads who are gelling well together off the field but we just need some more game-time on the field.”

 

Adamstown Rosebud
Last Year: 9th
Coach: Shane Cansdell-Sherriff

Ins: Ben Higgins (Broadmeadow), Benn Kelly (Lakes), Luke Rutledge, Tom Carias-Cox, Oliver Davies (both Hamilton), Jordan Elphick, Matt Sokulsky (both Maitland), Connoy Haydon (Reinhardt University), Gocha Abshilava (Kahibah), Turki Alwesaidy (Charlestown JFC)

Outs: Stuart Musalik (Hamilton), Paul Bitz (Broadmeadow), Cameron Holzheimer, Mitchell Hunter, Harry Lane, Riley Hill (all Lakes)

After a bumpy 2017 which started off on a high with an inaugural Heritage Cup win over Edgeworth, Adamstown unfortunately finished ninth on the ladder. However, the Rosebud’s have appointed former Maitland defender Shane Cansdell-Sherriff to his first senior coaching gig in the hope that he can be the catalyst for a successful season at Adamstown Oval.

The departure of Stuart Musalik is sure to leave a hole in the Adamstown midfield, with the experienced midfielder choosing to follow coach Peter McGuinness across to Hamilton. Interim coach in 2017, Nick Webb, has also been able to take a number of youngsters with him to his new club, Lakes.

Goalkeeper Paul Bitz has also left, which has opened the door for former Maitland, Weston and Lakes keeper Benn Kelly who joined in the off-season. Youngster Thomas Carias-Cox scored 27 goals in 21 games for a premiership winning Hamilton under-20s last season, and having made the move to Adamstown in search of first grade opportunities is one to keep an eye on.

The appointment of Cansdell-Sherriff, a renowned defender in the English lower leagues and more recently at Maitland, may add some much needed resolve at the back for an Adamstown side which conceded 48 goals last season – the second worst defensive record in the competition.

A Heritage Cup run will have imbued Rosebud with some much needed confidence going into the NPL NNSW season. Despite a penalty shootout loss to Weston, Adamstown played some good football and will look to continue that going into week one of the NPL NNSW.

What Shane Cansdell-Sherriff says:

“Defence is something I take a lot of pride in and it’s something I’ve been looking at and working on, my last league club I think we played 46 games and kept 23 clean sheets, so it’s something we’ve looked at and we’re working on it and it’s about trying to mould individuals into the system and the structure that you want them to play within.”

“It’s my first senior coaching gig and I’m loving it, coaching-wise and organising and delegating it’s fantastic, the boys have been a pleasure and they’ve all got the right mentalities and attitudes which is a big thing for me.”

 

Newcastle Jets Youth
Last Year: 10th
Coach: Lawrie McKinna

Ins: Jack Simmons, Ryan Goodhew (both promoted), Noah James (injury), Tom Beecham (Broadmeadow Magic)

Outs: Regan Lundy (Weston), Finn Parris, Cameron Joice

After coming close to the finals places in 2016, it was a disappointing 2017 for the Jets Youth side who finished tenth, eight points above last-placed Weston.

After taking over at the back end of last year, Lawrie McKinna and Labinot Haliti are back at the helm for the 2018 season. The pair will be looking to get the most out of a young squad, with the aim of developing players firmly at the front of their minds.

There’s plenty of young talent in this Jets side, younger than what is typical. Jack Simmons and Ryan Goodhew both come from the under 16s side, while Tom Beecham has joined the Jets after a solid start with Broadmeadow Magic.

It was goals conceded which was the biggest issue for the young Jets last season – they let in 56 across 20 matches in the league, at almost three a game.

There were some big blowout results too, a 5-1 defeat to Broadmeadow in round 10 and a 6-1 loss to Maitland in round 14. Tightening it up at the back and establishing leaders on this side will go a long way to ensuring the young Jets do much better in 2018.

What Lawrie McKinna says:

“It’s getting them to believe in themselves when Labi and myself came in at the backend of last season they were playing some really good football. The big thing we found last year with the young ones was that when you make a mistake against an NPL team, you get punished so it’s important to us to make these boys a bit more ruthless.”

“Often the boys try to play too much football, so it’s a challenge to try to get them into the mindset that sometimes instead of playing out, you just have to clear your lines. Angus Thurgate is in the first team squad on a scholarship contract but he’ll be playing with us this season and that’s what it’s all about, getting as many boys as possible training in the first team and that’s our goal – hopefully win a few games, but develop players for the first team as well.”

 

Weston Bears FC
Last Year: 11th
Coach: Steve Piggott

Ins: Nathan Morris, Jackson Burston (both Lambton), Kew Jaliens (retirement), Josh Maguire (Charlestown), Regan Lundy, Liam O’Reilly (both Jets Youth), Jamie Subat (Thornton)

Outs: James Thompson, Zach Thomas (all Maitland), Jamie Byrnes, Jacob Golding (both Edgeworth), Jake Milsteed

It’s been a couple of years to forget for Weston. The past two years have seen them finish bottom of the pile, with only one win in the league each season. Last season’s performances were indicative of the extremely young nature of the side, however, with reinforcements of experienced players, the Bears may be a force to be reckoned with once again in 2018.

There haven’t been wholesale changes from the side which struggled last season, but there have been a number of departures. James and Nick Thompson, along with Zach Thomas all made the switch to Maitland toward the end of last season, while Jake Milsteed and Jacob Golding are among those on the outgoings list.

It’s that lack of experience which Piggott has worked hard to rectify this season, however, with two former Bears stalwarts back in – Nathan Morris to marshal the defence and Jamie Subat to chip in with some goals. They’ll be joined by former Dutch international Kew Jaliens, who has the ability to play either in the centre of defence or midfield, while Josh Maguire has made the switch from Charlestown and is expected to play a big role going forward for the Bears this season.

It’s at both ends the Bears need to do some serious work after scoring only 18 goals in twenty matches last season, and a whopping 46. Reinforcements all over the pitch should help rectify both of these statistics, but they’ll need to do better on the road too – Weston took only one point from ten away games last season.

A penalty-shootout win in the second Heritage Cup saw the Bears pick up their first piece of silverware since winning the 2010 premiership. It will be a welcome boost to the club, and coach Steve Piggott will hope this will help his side kick on and make 2018 a markedly more successful year than the past few.

What Steve Piggott says:

“The leadership these older guys are bringing and their talk, on and off the field, is something we lacked last year, so that’s a massive positive for us and it’s having an effect already in our confidence and how we do things, and hopefully results will show that. There’s been an amazing turnover of players at the club since we finished runners-up, runners-up in 2014, none of the players from that group existed in 2017, and we decided as there’s no relegation we’d take a young team last season and see how we go.”

“We’re hoping to finish middle of the pack somewhere, no great expectations, next year is where we really have to come alive, and every coach and every team will want to finish in those finals spots and they won’t tell you any different, but my expectation is that if we finish midfield, that’s okay and we’ll go from there.”

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