Match of the Round
Merewether United FC vs New Lambton FC
2.30pm Sunday, March 8 — No.2 Sportsground
The Women’s Premier League is back for the 2020 season, with a host of new and returning faces—both in terms of players, and clubs—but one thing that hasn’t changed is the number of top-class matches each and every round.
First up in the Match of the Round, last year’s grand final heavyweights Merewether and New Lambton come face-to-face. While the lineups and coaches may have changed, the match still carries the weight of last year’s decider.
According to new-look United coach Scott Ellis, who has stepped in to replace long-standing boss Cass Koppen after she called time on her five-year stint with the club, the 4–3 loss last season has been put far from his squad’s minds.
“The similarities to the final last year and this weekend will be not much I think, considering all the changes we’ve both had,” he said, and suggested that was going to be the vibe of the whole first round. “I think we all want to see where we’re sitting.”
While Merewether has long been a club sitting near the top come the pointy end of the year, Ellis admits he’s happy for the girls to take a slow approach to building. With Alison Logue out this weekend too, there’ll be a bit of balancing that change.
“Our goal for the season is to make the finals. We think that’s very possible, especially with the number of big game specialists we have in the team. One we make the finals, the core group has been there before, so it’s game on,” he said.
On the other side of the park, New Lambton are also facing a period of change. Topscorers Tara Andrews and Lauren Allan, who combined for 81 of the Eagles’ 113 goals last year, are gone. So too are Jenna Kennedy, Imogene Tomasone and Sophie Jones.
That hasn’t stopped incoming coach Brad Jones, who guided Wallsend to with inches of a finals berth in 2019, from remaining extremely optimistic about the club’s title defence as they head into the refreshed WPL season.
“There’s been changes, yes, and we’ve lost some obvious quality there, but I think the team will still look great this year, the way I like to play football is different to how Keelan [Hamilton] had them set up, so we’ve adapted through that,” he said.
Stacey Day, Lisa Cochrane, Georgia Amess and Toria Campbell have all remained with the squad, as have young starlets Emmeline Pepper and Tahlia Gossner, and Jones said he’s already looking forward to seeing how well they’ll step up in 2020.
“We’ve got incredible depth, our reserve grade side won the title last year too. While we’ve lost a lot of those top players, we have some fantastic quality that we’re going to look to for the new year as well, and they’ll be great,” he said.
That’s the key message, the new Eagles boss said: “We aren’t going to be spending much time looking at last year. That’s in the books, and the club has celebrated that. Now we have our own challenges to overcome in 2020.”
The Premier League grand final rematch also marks the first time the league will make use of the new partnership with Newcastle City Council to have some matches throughout the season played on No.2 Sportsground.
Broadmeadow Magic FC vs Warners Bay FC
8pm Thursday, March 5 — Magic Park
For the first time since former champions Broadmeadow departed the region’s top-flight women’s competition, Women’s Premier League is back at Magic Park.
It’s got the South Wallsend-turned-Broadmeadow lineup all a-buzz, coach Jake Curley told NNSWF ahead of the season opener on Thursday evening, and he’s already buying into the excitement as well.
“The girls are super excited about [getting out onto Magic Park], it’s such a great venue and I think it’s really a place that the Women’s Premier League deserves to be playing on. I know they’ll a little nervous too, but that’s natural,” he said.
For the most part, Magic are coming into the 2020 season with a Wolves cohort built from the team which made the final last year. They’ve added Lucy Jerram, Thornton star Maddie Dean, and retained Koby Ferguson, Kalista Hunter, and Gabby Brodie.
“I think we’ve recruited pretty well, we’ve brought in a lot of new players, and one of the adjustments that we wanted to make coming into the year was to make sure our whole team was committed too, so we’ve done that,” he said.
Curley has become known for his singular style of play, one that he’s sure will offer “plenty of excitement for the league.” He can’t wait to get it started on Thursday.
“This first week is about shape. The girls know how we want to play, and we’ve been working on it all, so these first rounds will be about getting to that stage where they are comfortable with how I like to play. We’re building that for now.”
Building will be a keyword for Warners Bay in 2020 too. After losing to Merewether in the semi-final last season, the Panthers went on to lose Premier League heavy-hitters Cassidy Davis, Jenna Kingsley, and Tara Pender.
The squad has also seen Sophie Stapleford and Kaitlin Radstaak (New Lambton), Nadja Squires (one year off from the league), and Maddie Latter all depart.
With a host of new faces joining the Warners Bay outfit, including five former Buds in Elodie Dagg, Annika D’Amico, Ryley Field, Georgia Cook, and Elly Cook, it seems coach Craig Atkins will be looking at a similar trajectory to other development squads.
“We’ve been watching how well the new recruits have settled in, and it’s all been about starting from scratch — there’s a lot of new faces — but I think we’ve found the ins and outs so far and that’s been good,” Atkins said.
“The girls are starting to combine really well, and we’re really keen to get the season started, see how the first rounds go. Tonight the trip to Magic Park should be quite tricky, but the girls are more than up for it, absolutely.
“Broadmeadow are tipped to be up in the top two, so I think there’s not many games better to see exactly how we’re going. We want to play finals football, but as I said we’re building too. We’ve recruited well, and I have confidence in our girls.”
Adamstown Rosebud JFC vs Thornton Redbacks FC
3pm Sunday, March 8 — Adamstown No.1 Oval
Adamstown and Thornton kick-off their 2020 season with a match at No.1 Oval on Sunday afternoon, as both young squads look to find their footing to figure out where they stand in the Women’s Premier League this year.
Both the Redbacks and the Rosebud have kept one eye on developing local talent with their top-level squads over the past few years. That will again be the focus for both sides, but this time they’re looking to challenge more too.
This is especially the case for Adamstown, who have picked up coach Ryan Campbell for the 2020 season. The new Buds helmsman knows he has a young squad on his hands, but he doesn’t believe that should stop them gunning for points.
“We’ve said to ourselves that we want to get nine points out of our first three fixtures to start off the season right,” Campbell told NNSWF.
“The whole squad is pretty confident too, we’ve had a lot of preseason matches but we’ve really only been playing against boys NPL Youth teams, so we are looking forward to getting out into some real matches and seeing where we’re at.”
Adamstown is one of the WPL clubs that has seen a number of outgoing movements ahead of the new season. Elodie Dagg, Maggie Quinn, Chelsea Lucas, Annika D’Amico, Riley Field, Georgia Cook, and Elly Cook have all departed.
For Campbell, the team’s strength lies in the club’s remaining stars — Olivia Sneddon and Jorjia Hogg, who have both stepped into captain’s roles this season.
“I think they’re really enjoying that step up to a leading spot for the younger girls. They have taken to it really well in the 2020 preseason so far. It’s a different challenge for their football and I think they’re really liking it,” he said.
The Redbacks also feel like they’re “starting fresh,” said coach Alan Primmer, especially considering they’ve had a few key outs heading into the season.
Grace Harvey and Jennifer Jongbloed left, while returning Magic scooped up Maddison Dean and Kirsty Power-Walford. Sophie Milton and Lucy Maddison, as well as youngsters like Ainsley Childs, Lauren Faulkner, Jasmyn Hughes, and Taleah Mountford all remain.
“We’ve had a bit of change coming into the year, so it feels like we’ll be on the development path again, at least to start,” Primmer said.
“Those girls, Ainsley, Lauren, Jasmyn, and Taleah, they’re now 17, they’re not 16 anymore! I’m expecting to see great things out of them with that season under their belt,” Primmer joked, before adding he was eager to see them kick on in 2020.
“I’ve been with these girls for quite some time now, and they’re quite sparky, and always eager to learn. I’m looking forward to seeing how they continue.
“We want to throw a few punches this season against every team we face, starting with the Buds this weekend. The girls will have to be switched on from the very start if they want to hit the ground running, so that’s what we’re aiming for.”
Mid North Coast FC vs Newcastle Olympic FC
3pm Sunday, March 8 — Taree Zone Field
In the final match of the opening round, returning club Newcastle Olympic make the long journey north to face Mid North Coast on Sunday afternoon.
For both teams, the looming threat of rain this weekend has every player, and both coaches, crossing their fingers they can begin in Round 1.
That feeling has been doubled, returning FMNC coach Mick Grass said, by the eagerness of everyone to get out onto the park and find out where they stand. It’s been a long offseason, and they’re about ready for it to come to an end.
“We had a few preseason games knocked around because of the heat and rain, but we got a bit of a roll-on now so we’re looking forward to playing for points,” he said.
“The squad is a touch stronger this year, we’ve kept eight young first-graders, and having that first season under their belts is great. Should be interesting to see where we land. It’s hard to tell what the comp is going to be like because there’s been so much change.”
Because of that, Grass said his northern side would continue their progress from last year, and keep their eyes firmly fixed on themselves.
“Our focus this year will just be focusing on ourselves — if we do what we want to do as well as we can then we should be good enough. We have plans for how we want to play, and that’s what we’ll be looking at in the early rounds,” he said.
Olympic are also crossing their fingers and toes the weather doesn’t play havoc with their schedule right off the bat, especially because of the boon that comes with getting the long away day ticked off in the very first round.
Harmonie Atwill, who has been tasked with leading Newcastle back into the competition, seems to have a star-studded squad at her disposal. It’s one she said she aimed to build “around a single purpose,” but one that may take time.
“I’ve made sure to put no expectations on the players, this is a teething year for us as we get back in. We want to make sure we can get our program sorted, and success will come once we ensure the club environment is right,” she said.
While that does mean some high-profile signings may not play hefty minutes early in the season, Olympic does come into the new campaign armed with a few dangerous weapons nonetheless.
W-League forward Jenna Kingsley is chief among them, though she too may be rested early after a long campaign with the Newcastle Jets only just ended.
“It’s going to be week by week for us at the moment. It’s early days for everyone, and we’ve been impacted pretty heavily by the interesting weather that we’ve been having too — first the fires, then the heat, and the rain.
“Everyone is just keen to play. We want to start executing what we’ve been practicing, so let’s hope it doesn’t rain too much over the weekend. I know we’ll all be devastated if we can’t get a game straight off the bat in Round 1.”