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Match of the Round
Lambton Jaffas v Edgeworth Eagles
Saturday 17th March, 2:30 pm at Arthur Edden Oval
What better way to kick off the 2018 NPL season than with a grand final rematch?
Last season, Lambton had the better results between the two claiming the Grand Final trophy over Edgeworth and throughout the season, winning both of their matches, 2-1 in round two and 2-0 in round 13.
However, coming into the new season 2018 it’ll be a tough decider for Round 1 with a few injury setbacks to a Jaffas side and Edgeworth having a big change to the roster, it could be anyone’s game.
Jaffas begin the season with some key players sidelined – Jobe Wheelhouse remains out for at least a month as he overcomes an ankle injury.
Michael Kantarovski and Michael Sessions are struggling with injury and are both unlikely to play this weekend.
An unlikely issue for the Jaffas will be in their attack with both the Griffiths brothers returning to the season, however with Wheelhouse and Kantarovski out from the midfield, coach James Pascoe admits depth will be an issue for his side in the opening weeks.
If Pascoe can ensure his midfield are up to scratch, they have a good chance.
Edgeworth hasn’t lost their round one league fixture since 2008 and will hope that’s a record they can keep intact this season.
A new look Edgeworth side has lost some electric talent in the off-season, but have recruited some younger players which coach Damien Zane says has reinvigorated his side this season.
The defence has long been the foundation to the Eagles’ success, and in the past four NPL seasons, they have conceded over 20 goals only once.
Pat Wheeler and Josh Evans continue to marshal the Edgeworth defence this year and will have a huge task on their hands this weekend.
What the coaches said:
Damien Zane (Edgeworth)
“On paper, you’d say they’ve [Lambton] assembled the strongest squad and take into account we’ve lost five or six important players. At the same time, we’ve got a strong squad ourselves and the starting eleven to build on, a few additions, I quite like the look of our squad and I think we’ll get better as the season goes on.”
“Jobe’s a leader for Jaffas and he should really still be playing A-League, so when they lose him, they lose their leader.”
“Michael [Kantarovski] is a fantastic player and I will believe [the word on the street] he’s out when I see him not getting changed and running out… I would expect him to play, but I could be wrong.”
“They still have some fantastic options, I thought Ben Hay was one of the best players in the league last year… Tom Waller is in there and he’s a good player, Bren [Hammel] I hear has been playing in midfield, so I think they have a big enough squad to deal with it.”
Key: Can Edgeworth prove to the competition that they’re still the force to be reckoned with by claiming a win over premiership contenders, Lambton?
Newcastle Jets Youth v Adamstown Rosebud
Saturday 17th March, 2:30 pm at Adamstown Oval
It’s a matchup of two new-look sides – an Adamstown side under the tutelage of a new coach, Shane Cansdell-Sherriff, up against a rookie Jets side under the guidance of a seasoned football coach Lawrie McKinna and former Hyundai A-League player Labinot Haliti.
The young Jets finished tenth last season and Adamstown only did one better, but it was the Jets who had the better of the fixtures between the two sides in 2017. A 4-all draw in round one was followed up with a 3-2 Jets Youth win in the return fixture in round 12.
As ever, the Jets Youth are an unknown quantity thanks to the nature of the squad and the annual turnover which that brings.
Angus Thurgate has been plying his trade with the senior squad as they fly high in the Hyundai A-League, and he will be a crucial player in the young Jets’ engine this season.
As much as the Jets are an unknown quantity this season, Adamstown is perhaps equally so.
Despite a large turnover in the squad, and with Cansdell-Sherriff in the dugout, Rosebud went all the way to the final of last weekend’s Heritage Cup, only to go out on penalties.
With a good start to the pre-season, Rosebud will be going into the match stronger having the competitive experience under their belts and will have gelled more as a result.
Robbie Turnbull is back in the mix after spending last year sidelined with a knee injury, while Tom Carias-Cox and Luke Rutledge have come across from Hamilton in search of first-grade opportunities and will be looking to make their mark.
What the coaches said:
Labinot Haliti (Jets Youth)
“We’ve come back after the break, a couple of new faces and we’re looking forward to the season and the opening game, it’s always a tough game against Adamstown, I remember the 4-all draw last season, so we’re looking forward to it.
“They’re all young kids in this squad, getting experience and game time against the likes of Edgeworth, Olympic, all the big clubs gives the kids a good grounding for the future and what better way than to play big games every week… Some of them already have a full NPL season under their belt, and hopefully, the new boys coming in can learn from the ones that were there last year.”
Key: A new-look Adamstown, players and coach with it all to prove. Can they get the job done on opening weekend against a young Jets side looking to improve big time on last season?
Maitland Magpies v Weston Bears
Saturday 17th March, 7 pm at Cooks Square Park
The first Coalfields derby of the season – an extremely strong Maitland squad up against a Weston side flying high after their Heritage Cup win at the weekend.
The Magpies missed out on the finals by quite a way last season, but still had the better of the Bears on both occasions when the two sides met. A 1-0 win in round six was backed up by a 3-2 win at Rockwell Automation Park in round 17; a late Josh Dutton-Black goal breaking Weston’s hearts.
Maitland is without coach Mick Bolch this weekend, who will spend the first two rounds of the season away from the sideline as he serves a suspension he received in the aftermath of Hamilton’s semi-final loss last season.
Former NEWFM Northern League One Thornton coach and now NPL Maitland assistant Darrel McAllister will run the side in his absence.
If the last two seasons have been a case of ‘so close, yet so far’ for the Magpies, then with the squad they have this year, there is almost an expectation they can go a couple better.
With Matt Thompson, Matt Comerford and Andrew Swan at the top end of the pitch, Maitland should expect a positive result this weekend.
It’s a remarkably more experienced Weston squad this season, bolstered by the return of two former Bears in Nathan Morris (Lambton) and Jamie Subat (Thornton), who are joined by Josh Maguire (Charlestown) and Kew Jaliens (retirement).
The benefits of the new signings have already shown, with a first Ampcontrol Heritage Cup win at the weekend.
It’s the influx of experience, especially at the back, which will no doubt prove vital for the Bears side which conceded 46 goals in the league last season.
Morris has already shown just why he’s regarded one of the best defenders in the league, but the Bears will be without two big names at the back this weekend –Jaliens will miss out through injury, while Brock Oakley has done an ACL and will miss six months minimum.
What the coaches said:
Michael Bolch (Maitland)
“Everyone in local football knows the Coalfields derby, Weston and Maitland, there’s no love lost between the two clubs. Maitland were always sort of the little brother compared to Weston, but the past couple of years Weston haven’t been so good and Maitland nearly made the final a couple of years ago.”
“I watched them [Weston] play a trial match against Edgeworth, they played quite well, they’ve just won the Heritage Cup so they’ve definitely improved from the last year…I’m sure it will be playing for sheep stations come Saturday night.”
Steve Piggott (Weston)
“I was at Maitland a couple of years ago, they’ve always been a fairly physical side and they’ve got pace in key areas, they’re well led by Matt Thompson and well defended with Carl [Thornton] and a few others, so it’ll be a tough match.”
“It’s hard to gauge how much confidence the Heritage Cup win has given the group, it’s momentum building, to beat three NPL teams to get to the final and win it is encouraging, because we only beat one last year, so it’s positive.”
Key: Can a Bears squad, bolstered by some much-needed experience, upset one of the league’s strongest, on paper, sides?
Lake Macquarie City vs Broadmeadow Magic
Sunday 18th March, 2:30 pm at Macquarie Field
Tipped for big things this season, Broadmeadow head to Macquarie Field for their opening league fixture of the season to face off against a Lakes side which is another new look squad within the NPL.
Results between these two sides tell a story of their seasons – Broadmeadow in particular, who lost the first match in round four 4-1 and then surged back to a 3-0 win in round 15 as they powered toward the end of the 2017 season.
Some of Adamstown’s brightest youngsters have followed coach Nick Webb to Lakes, including Cameron Holzheimer and Mitch Hunte,r but experience has left in the form of Benn Kelly and Justin Broadley.
Despite this, the Roosters did well in the Ampcontrol Heritage Cup, finishing runners-up in their group behind eventual winners and the only team who beat them, Weston.
Paul Sichalwe is a long-time Magic man who made the switch to Lakes for the 2018 season and will be out to show his former club just what they’re missing this weekend.
Lakes will have to be in order to keep an extremely strong Magic attack at bay – James Virgili, Kale Bradbury, Dino Fajkovic and John Majurovski all loom large this weekend as players who can make things happen all over the pitch.
With the type of attacking prowess Broadmeadow possess, goals will definitely be their strong suit this season and they’ll be keen to blast out of the blocks come Sunday.
There are also debuts for a number of new Magic men – former Lakes midfielder Justin Broadley and Paul Bitz, who played with coach Ruben Zadkovich in the pair’s early days.
Magic look to have the upper hand, given their consistent strength at both ends of the pitch. That, combined with a coach now in his second year at the helm perhaps makes them slight favourites this weekend.
What the coaches said:
Nick Webb (Lakes)
“We stayed to our structures and our game plans in the Heritage Cup which we’ve been working towards, I think we’re in a really good mindset at the moment and we shall see how good that is, come Sunday.
“Tom Walker’s a leader and Sam [Walker] scores goals for fun and that’s a good thing to have in your team, but we’ve tried to strengthen every area so that every position has two people gunning for it so every player is fighting for their position, so it’s created a good environment at the club.”
Key: Can Nick Webb’s mix of youth and experience give the much-fancied Magic a shock?
Hamilton Olympic v Charlestown City Blues
Sunday 18th March, 6 pm at Darling Street Oval
A new-look Hamilton side infused with youth and a fresh optimism up against a Charlestown side bolstered by some of the league’s biggest names is shaping to be one of the must-sees of the opening round of this season’s NPL NNSW.
These two sides shared the points last season –Charlestown taking the three points in round six with a 2-1 win, while Olympic struck back with their own 2-1 win when they met again in round 17.
Interestingly, Kane Goodchild scored a goal for Hamilton in each fixture – this year the 2016 and 2017 NPL NNSW leading goal scorer takes to the pitch for Charlestown.
Other Olympic high profile players who have joined Charlestown are Scott Smith and 2016 NPL NNSW goalkeeper of the year, Danny Ireland.
The biggest signing at Charlestown, however, is former Newcastle Jets captain and eight-time Socceroo, Ljubo Milicevic.
However with the big signings and influx of new players, highlights one of coach David Tanchevski’s biggest concerns for the upcoming season – whether or not his side can gel fast enough to push on for honours at year’s end.
Even though the Hamilton squad missing more than half of last year’s starting eleven, with three of the biggest names making the move back to Charlestown.
There are two big wins for Olympic though – Stuart Musalik has followed former Adamstown coach Peter McGuinness to the club and former Hyundai A-League midfielder Leo Bertos returns to the club after some time away from the game.
Charlestown goes into the round as favourites with an immensely talented and extremely experienced squad, who are sure to be strong up front and tight at the back.
What the coaches said:
David Tanchevski (Charlestown)
“The boys trained really well, we had a good chat about what needs to be done this weekend and the intensity was really good, this week is the first time we’ve had a full complement to train with and for us the first game can’t come quick enough, we’re looking forward to it.”
“We’ll work on our shape and our structure more through the week… I think there’ll be players disappointed to miss out this weekend, we have 16 out-and-out first graders and a number of under 20’s pushing through and everyone will be expecting to start, but everyone’s aware it’s a team effort and we need those numbers to compete all year.”
Key: Can a plethora of big-name Charlestown signings gel fast and open the season with a win?