Match of the Round
New Lambton FC vs. Wallsend FC
Sunday 31 March, 2.30pm, Arthur Edden Oval
Despite the fact that many pundits are beginning to “make a call on the final four”, New Lambton coach Keelan Hamilton believes there’s still “so much football to be played”.
After scoring 20 goals in the opening three games, and shipping just four in reply, it’s clear the current first placed club is one of the teams to beat early in the season. Now Wallsend travel to Arthur Edden Oval on Sunday to try and knock the high-flying Eagles off their perch.
“It’s fair to say New Lambton are obviously a great side, they’ve been putting some incredible scores on the board and are clearly going to set the pace early in 2019”, Jones said.
“This match on Sunday will be a great test and I think it’s one we’re most definitely ready for, both training wise and just in regards to jumping back onto the paddock and actually kicking the ball in a proper game.”
The Red Devils coach said his team “couldn’t wait to get back on the pitch” after the “stop-start” nature of the first few weeks.
“The girls are raring to go, it’s always hard to have that excitement around kicking off the season and then having games delayed or pushed back just kind of deflates that a little bit,” he said.
“That said we’ve had excellent preparations, our mindset is really good despite missing the games, and it’s just going to be a matter of harnessing that excitement and energy that we’ve had to finally get into a good string of games.
“I think all the girls are really looking forward to the match being televised on BarTV too, it’s a great initiative by Northern to promote the women’s game. It makes the match even more special.”
For New Lambton coach Hamilton, the main advantage New Lambton have had early on – outside of strength of schedule – is being able to play three straight Sundays in a row.
“I have the feeling three weekends of games for us without any problems with weather or delays, and avoiding those mid-week matches, will play into our hands really well,” the Eagles coach said.
“Wallsend are coming off a tricky game against Warners Bay away from home [a match that finished 5-3 to the Panthers after a late-game comeback] but we’ve had all week to follow our regular routine and prepare for this key match.”
New Lambton have already confirmed to the rest of the league that they have the starpower to make any WPL defender tremble in their boots, with Tara Andrews knocking in four in just fifteen minutes – including a world-class header against the Rosebuds.
For Hamilton however, the team’s “holistic approach” to everything on the pitch has been the “best part of our gameplan” in the opening three weeks.
“We are playing as a great outfit, and yes it’s fantastic to have players like Tara or Lauren [Allan] just take control of a game and secure the result, but we’ve looked good as an outfit,” he said.
“We’re aiming to have complete performances across the park with all the girls being involved, and we really want to have that holistic approach with everyone chipping in to our performances. I think it’s the best way for us to get much-needed results.”
The Eagles coach also praised the WPL and Northern NSW Football, as well as BarTV Sports, for bringing streamed coverage on the competition online in 2019.
“It’s great for the competition to get some games streamed on BarTV,” he said.
“BarTV do a great job, and it’s really lifted the profile of the NPL in Northern NSW as well as other states around Australia.
“Hopefully it can help do the same for the Premier League here. Our girls are excited to be involved in a BarTV game, and hope to put on a good performance in what will be a very tough match against Wallsend.”
Football Mid North Coast vs. Thornton Redbacks
Sunday 31 March, 2.30pm, Taree Zone Field
Football Mid North Coast and the Thornton Redbacks have both been handed pointless starts to their 2019 Women’s Premier League season, but now as they come face to face at the Taree Zone Field on Sunday that’s about to change.
After the competition expanded back to eight teams ahead of the new year, both FMNC and the Redbacks were welcomed back into the fold with opening arms. Now they’re looking to find their place in the league, and show the rest of the region their development and talent.
For home coach Mick Grass, the Redbacks travelling north is a chance to “get the result of the season”, as well as a chance to “put a muddled start to the season” behind the team and just start playing football again.
“We’re confident. I don’t think last week’s scoreline really showed how well we played in that game, and we definitely finished the match in flying form,” Grass said.
“I think we have the capabilities to bring that straight into the next game, and it should be a game that we can get something out of to have that first burst in our season.
“Looking at the other side I know Thornton are probably thinking the same thing about coming up here, so we’re going to just keep focusing on our own game plan and keep things as positive as we can on the park. If we do that, there’s no doubt we can turn that into a positive result, especially considering we’re at home.”
With the Middies returning to the top women’s grade in the region after a hiatus away from the league, Grass knows a lot of development has to once again take place behind the scenes.
The FMNC head coach revealed his main targets early in the season are to “focus on defence”, as well as “making sure the team stays in ascendancy for 90 minutes”.
“Early in the game last week we were right on top, and then we conceded a goal against the run of play, which saw a lot of heads drop,” he said. “Once that happened we lost the ball a few times, and leaked a few goals in a row to Merewether.”
“We’ve focused on that in training, but the mental fortitude I think is improving every single week. I think if that clicks we’ll have the advantage over Thornton because we’ve broken our game legs in, while they’ll just be getting rolling.”
Redbacks coach Alan Primmer also confirmed his team would be looking to a defensive focus at Taree Zone Field come Sunday afternoon, but for a different reason – a cohort of defensive returns means Thornton are finally returning to full strength.
The Redbacks helmsman revealed Kirsty Power-Woolford, Lucy Madison and Anais Moore were all available for selection after question marks in the opening weeks, meaning Primmer could set up with his preferred formation of three at the back.
Thornton are also set to see club stalwart and leading light Sophie Milton return to their attacking group, with the Redbacks star making her return to the club in 2019.
“When we lost Kirsty against Wallsend the score started to slide away from us a bit, she’s a fantastic leader at the back and I think between her, Lucy, and Anais we should have that strong shape defensively,” the Redbacks coach said.
“Another great return is Sophie [Milton], who is back at the club this year and looking to make her 2019 debut as soon as possible. She’s one that needs to get out on the park and get minutes, I don’t expect 90 minutes from her but hopefully she can spark some magic for us.”
Primmer also pointed to how the early weeks of the competition had started, and said he believes there’s a clear five leaders for the finals, with three teams on the “path to improvement” in the first round robin fixtures.
“With how the competition is shaping up it’s beginning to look like we’ll be sitting with Adamstown and Mid North Coast at the bottom of the feeding frenzy,” Primmer said ahead of the catch-up game against Merewether on Wednesday evening [a game that eventually ended 8-1 against the Redbacks].
“We’ve only had a small chance to play so far this year, so we don’t have a great idea of where we’re at against the other clubs.
“Having basically only one game in a last month means it feels like we’re almost starting again. That might give Middies a chance against us because they’ve got the game legs, but we’re looking forward to getting out and finally getting the season rolling.”
Merewether United vs. Adamstown Rosebud
Sunday 31 March, 2.30pm, Myamblah Oval
Fresh off the back of an 8-1 victory over the Redbacks midweek, Merewether again return to Myamblah Oval, welcoming local rivals Adamstown in the two club’s first meeting of 2019.
With no love lost between the two inner-city teams, the fourth round clash is sure to bring sparks, and Rosebuds coach Paul Devitis believes his team are “completely up for the battle”.
“I think everyone lifts for their local derby, and Merewether is basically our closest rival in the competition,” Devitis said.
“The girls really want to get one over United, and considering we’ve had a few difficult run-outs in recent weeks it’s a great way to get that lift. Form kind of goes out the window a little in these kind of games so we’ll be banking on that.
“It’s definitely been a bit of a tough run, so we really want to see how we shape up against Merewether considering we have that drive behind us to beat them, and it should be a great game at Myamblah on Sunday.”
Adamstown have also been handed a boost in regards to their playing numbers in recent weeks, with a number of defensive stalwarts bedding back into the side.
Both club fullbacks – Taylor Kelly-Sigurdsson and Isabel Lauina – have returned to training and are set to take to the field on Sunday afternoon against United.
With those key players returning to the defensive flanks for the ‘Buds, alongside the return of defensive midfielder and vice-captain Maggie Quinn just last weekend, Devitis believes the team’s conceded goals should “drop a lot”.
“We have been missing a lot of our defence over the past few weeks, and we’ve had some juniors come up and play well, but there’s obviously a difference,” Adamstown’s coach explained. “Between Taylor and Isabel coming back this week, and Maggie having bedded in last weekend we’re right on the front foot with that again.”
“Like I’ve been saying for the past few weeks, it’s just conceding after we’ve just let one in that has been killing us, if you take out that fifteen minute period with Tara Andrews last weekend we’re heading into the final moments of the half locked at 1-1, so it’s our main focus.
“The girls were really disappointed when they came away from New Lambton having had a similar situation to what we’d been trying to avoid, but I think having all these defensive reinforcements back in the side will go a long way to mitigating that key part of the game.”
Merewether coach Cass Koppen echoed Devitis’ sentiments on the inner-city derby, and said she’s expecting the game to be “hotly contested”. After two games already in this seven day period, United are looking to make it three from three straight.
“We’re going out there to play on the weekend, we’ve had a lot of players that have had to back up after Sunday playing Wednesday’s game, but we will have a strong starting eleven for sure,” she said.
Koppen confirmed goalkeeper Alison Logue would be returning to between the sticks after her outfield adventure on last Sunday, and her absence from the mid week game. She also confirmed Sarah Hartree, who was injured against Mid North Coast, was ruled out for the game, as was Tayla Braithwaite.
“It’s been a busy period, and we know that the Adamstown game is going to be hotly contested. We just want to make sure we wrap this period up with a win, we’re coming into a string of tough games to close out the first round of fixtures so we want to be at our best heading into those.”
South Wallsend vs. Warners Bay
Sunday 31 March, 2.30pm, Walker Fields
Another lofty clash in the WPL comes at Walker Fields this weekend, when South Wallsend return home for the first time this season and match up against the undefeated Warners Bay.
With the Panthers coming off a 5-3 victory over Wallsend on Wednesday evening, and the Wolves returning home with two away wins tucked under their belts, it’s sure to be a cracking game for both sides.
For South Wallsend head coach Cas Wright however, it feels a little like a “training match” as her squad returns to Walker Fields in search of their third straight win of the season.
“I’m not feeling threatened by Warners Bay, because I think we’re at the point where all the teams we face have to step up against us to get any results,” Wright said.
“Warners Bay, Wallsend and Merewether are all on a similar level so far this season I think, and there’s already a clear-cut top five and lower third. If we can show that we’ve continued to improve against Warners Bay this weekend we’ll solidify where we are early on I think.”
Wright revealed all eyes at the South Wallsend club are currently locked on one upcoming fixture on the WPL calendar – the blockbuster clash between the Wolves and the first placed Eagles in Round 6.
“All of these matches ahead of that New Lambton game feel like we’re heading into a training match, we have all eyes on that because it feels like the most important game of the first round robin,” she said.
“Southy have never gone through the first run of games with a loss, so we want to keep that record up and it means preparing for the best teams. Warners Bay is going to be an interesting challenge on Sunday, and they played the same way as the Eagles so it’s going to be a great test of where we’re at overall.
“We’re aiming for first or second this season, and that means we have to win every single game, barring maybe one or two losses, so we have to start against Warners Bay this weekend. If we can beat the four teams around us I think that will be crucial this season.”
Although many coaches have bemoaned the stop-start nature of the season, and many WPL fans share those sentiments, South Wallsend’s coach said she had enjoyed the chance to scout out other teams that were still playing their games.
“”I went and watched New Lambton and Adamstown last weekend, and got a bit of insight into how the teams are setting up in 2019,” she said. “That means I have an advantage in being able to dictate our technical training a certain way, and change tactics based on how teams are running out in their games.”
“I think the wash-outs and reschedules are put us on the front foot in that regard, we’ve been able to see how everyone plays and now we’ve acted accordingly in our preparations.”
The break in play for South Wallsend has also been good on the injury front, as first grade defender Kalista Hunter is likely to return against Warners Bay this weekend.
“She trained well earlier this week, we have one more fitness test ahead of her but it’s likely she’s going to be playing,” Wright confirmed. “She’s just keen to get out on the pitch I know, so she’s going to be doing everything she can to be ready for the match.”
Matildas representative Gema Simon is still away on national duty, with the friendly match against United States in America on the horizon for the South Wallsend.