PHOTO: SPROULE SPORTS FOCUS
Match of the Round
Cooks Hill United vs. Belmont-Swansea United
Sunday 18 March, 2:30 pm
Newcastle Athletics Field
What a way to kick-off the season! The two participants of last year’s Grand Final will face off at the newly refurbished Newcastle Athletics Field, to begin Round One, of what is set to be a fantastic match.
Coach Josh Rufo and his Belswans side will be looking to start off their season on the right track, which is something they’ve struggled with in recent years. Despite losing 4-0 to Cooks Hill in last year’s Grand Final, Rufo said they’re not focusing on getting revenge.
“We’re definitely not thinking about that sort of stuff [getting revenge],” said Rufo.
“For us, it’s just Round One…Our focus is on being competitive and winning the game. We can only focus on what we can do.”
“I hope when people watch us play they’ll see a very structured team and a team that can play pretty but mix it around when needed.”
“I’ll leave it up to other people to say who they think is stronger or better, but we expect them [Cooks Hill] to be well structured.”
With a fresh pitch at the Newcastle Athletics Field, the Cookers have the intent on making their home ground a fortress in an attempt to defend their premiership-championship crown and beating last year’s Grand Finalists would certainly be a step in the right direction.
Cookers coach Graham Law believed that after basing his team’s pre-season around playing National Premier League (NPL) NNSW clubs, his team is ready to go again, with a major focus this year on being better defensively.
“We have worked extremely hard on our defensive structure,” Law said.
“We obviously won the league last year and were the top goal-scorers, but we conceded far too many goals than I would have liked too.”
“The first couple of games you really do focus on what you’re doing yourselves rather than what your opposition is doing. You can’t really game plan on what you don’t know.”
“I do know if we don’t turn up, we’ll get turned over.”
West Wallsend Bluebells SFC vs. Singleton Strikers
Sunday 18 March, 2:30 pm
After disappointing seasons in 2017, both West Wallsend and Singleton will be looking to eliminate those cruel memories by starting their season off with a win at Johnston Park.
This is the second time these sides will face off in a season-opening match after playing back in 2013, where the Bluebells won 2-1. However, since then, both teams have languished in the bottom half of the table outside the top four but with healthy, thriving rosters, could make a shocking finals appearance in 2018.
The Strikers, who haven’t won a Round One contest since joining the NEWFM Northern League One competition, will be expecting a tough contest to begin the year according to coach David Willoughby.
“We’re expecting a very physical encounter. West Wallsend are quite strong on the ball, Gary [Rowe] has them very well organised and we’ll have to be at our best to be competitive.”
“We’re working really hard on our execution and our options in the front third.”
“I believe we’ll be competitive on Sunday. Will we win the game? I believe we are a strong chance too.”
West Wallsend coach Gary Rowe, said with four players missing from his first eleven this weekend due to injury, he too is expecting a hard match. However, Rowe believes his side is more than ready of stepping up to the task.
“They’re [Singleton] always difficult for us, we’ve never had an easy game against them.”
“Our focus is always defensive and how we’re going to react when we don’t have the football.”
“We’ve got four guys who I probably would have pencilled in my first eleven that aren’t available due to injury which is problematic. But we’ve got the boys who are capable of doing the job.”
“I’m confident that if the guys we put out on the park turn up to play, then the result will come for us.”
Toronto-Awaba Stags vs. Wallsend FC
Sunday 18 March, 2:30 pm
Lyall Peacock Field
Toronto-Awaba will host a renewed Wallsend team at Lyall Peacock Field for their first game of the season.
After an awfully disappointing campaign in the Ampcontrol Heritage Cup where they didn’t score a single goal, Wallsend will be hoping to put last weekend behind them and new coach Ben Edwards believes his side is still capable of big things this year.
“We’ve been working on playing forward, getting into the right areas and playing the right balls and it’s been working right up until the Heritage Cup,” said Edwards.
“There’d be alarm bells if we weren’t creating the chances I think. We’re still creating the chances though, just unfortunately sometimes they don’t come off in football.”
Edwards stated that despite Toronto-Awaba keeping rather quiet about their signings throughout the pre-season, that his side is still anticipating a strong opposition.
“I’m expecting a lot.”
“They always bring something decent to the table when we play them.”
For Toronto-Awaba, they’ll, unfortunately, be missing two first graders in Michael Bru and Hayden Jensen.
Coach Adam Routledge admitted that they may struggle to gel together defensively towards the start of the year, but their attack will be a big strength.
“Our defence is where we’ve worked on in pre-season,” said Routledge.
“It might take us a few rounds to get going.”
“We’re a fairly attacking side, we’ve definitely got some go-forward.”
Routledge confessed he hadn’t researched his Round One opponent’s all too much, stating that he expected a tough game, but he was mostly focused on his own side.
“They’re [Wallsend] usually pretty physical and obviously competitive – which is what you want to start the season really.”
“I know it’s the old cliché, but we’re just worrying about us.”
Cessnock City Hornets FC vs. Thornton Redbacks FC
Sunday 18 March, 2:30 pm
For the second consecutive year, Cessnock will host their local rivals in their season opener at Turner Park.
Both teams have new coaches for the season and both have very different squad rosters, making this local derby an intriguing affair.
Last year when these sides met in Round One, the Redbacks came out big 5-1 winners over the Hornets, but new Cessnock coach Brendan Slade is certain his fresh side will be much better than 2017 one.
“We’re really confident actually,” said Slade.
“If we can keep our goals conceded down, we’re going to go okay.”
Slade also identified the new Thornton man up front, Jye McKellar, as a key man his side will need to contain.
“He’s a real goal-scorer. Every time I coached against him in the NPL he scored two or three so he’s going to be their main threat.”
“He’s going to worry me a little bit.”
Thornton also has a new coach in Gary Wand and with his appointment comes a new looking side featuring a lot of NPL-experienced players.
After the Redbacks being unceremoniously knocked out in the semifinals against Cooks Hill in 2017, Wand isn’t setting his sights on any targets, instead, he is making sure his side focuses on each week as it comes and this weekend he’s expecting a colossal contest.
“I would have preferred to play them in the fourth or fifth game at home, not the first one,” Wand joked.
“I’m expecting a real tough game. I’m well and truly expecting a big battle.”
“They’ve got some decent players there and a lot of young guys and they’re going be very fired up for us.”
“There’ll be a little bit of a Weston v Weston scenario out there. A lot of the guys in both teams know each other.”
South Cardiff vs. New Lambton FC
Sunday 18 March, 2:30 pm
Last year the Gunners fell agonisingly short of finals football, but after the retainment of their core squad, as well as the addition of former golden boot winner Nathan McCallister, South Cardiff looks to have a solid mixture of youth and experience in 2018.
Coach Denis Fajkovic was another coach who decided it’d be best to play multiple NPL sides in their trial matches, having close encounters with Charlestown City, Valentine and Maitland in the pre-season.
Fajkovic suggested the main focus of Round One would be to get his new boys combining well with his players from last year.
“We’re trying to get everyone to gel and get used to the way we want to play.”
“We’ve got a strong defence from last year and know we can set up well defensively.”
Fajkovic believed that despite possessing a 7-0 aggregate, respectively, against the Eagles last year, that they were still going to pose a tough test.
“From what I remember they were quite a young side, they were enthusiastic and played some nice football at times.”
“Andrew Packer will get them up for the game… I’m pretty sure they’ll be pumped for it.”
“We’re definitely going to take them as a serious opponent and try and start our season with the three points.”
New Lambton on the other hand, are one of the youngest squads in the league and the opening match of the season will prove a solid test in seeing if they have the potential be a top four side in 2018.
Coach Andrew Packer has spent the pre-season attempting to install some composure and maturity into his young team and believed if that if his team can show those qualities, then they can put on a good display.
“What I’m trying to do is to get these guys to back themselves a little bit more and to not be afraid to knock the ball around,” Packer said.
“I want to see them dominate possession in the opposition half.”
“I’ve asked the guys to be a bit more mature than what they were last year, and I think we will be.”
“They [South Cardiff] have a lot of experience in there and that goes a long way against a young team like we have. But in saying that, I still think we can go there and put on a really good performance and stick to what we’re good at.”
Kahibah FC – Bye