Match of the Round
Newcastle Olympic v Warners Bay
Darling Street Oval, 2pm Saturday
Having achieved the premiership-championship double in 2020, Newcastle Olympic will be looking to start the year with a win when they take on Warners Bay on Saturday.
A repeat of last year’s grand final, Saturday’s fixture frames up as a tantalising one to start season 2021. Olympic’s 3-2 win in the decider was an epic reminder of the strength and growth of the Herald Women’s Premier League in recent years.
Returning for another year, Olympic coach Harmonie Attwill believes her side has what it takes to repeat last year’s heroics, with much of the squad retained for another tilt at the title.
“My expectation for the players is to come to training and work on the things we need to put into practice for our matches. And try to get the most out of ourselves as players,” Attwill said.
“It’s always about trying to build that culture and realistically now I think it has become engrained in the club and the girls. They continue to push each other.
“Like in anything, we have to be consistent. We have to know that there’s going to be tough matches. You just have to keep fighting.”
Last year’s golden boot Jemma House returns for Olympic, having spent the W-League season with the Newcastle Jets. While the direction and experience of captain Sophie O’Brien will again be critical for the women from Darling Street.
“We pretty much remain unchanged. That’s a good thing because we know the squad, the girls know what is expected and they have all played with each other for some length of time,” Attwill said.
Newcastle Olympic have been well tested in the pre-season, with trial matches against quality opponents.
“We’ve had plenty of opportunity to develop our strategies for the year,” she said.
At the other end, the question for Warners Bay will be, can they go one better without Jen Hoy?
The former National Women’s Soccer League striker was the Panthers’ leading goal-scorer in 2020 with 24 goals. A remarkable statistic given the 30-year-old only featured in 13 games.
“We’ve got to set that expectation that we’re here to play finals football. We’ve kept all of the girls, with the exception of losing one big important one not too long ago,” Warners Bay coach Craig Atkins said.
“We started the season the same last year, without Jen so we’ve got to move forward and we’re confident we’ve got the right personnel to still be moving in that forward direction.”
The loss of Annika D’Amico strikes another blow for the Panthers. D’Amico scored eight goals last year, though the consistency of captain Elodie Dagg and defender Sian Keating will provide the side with a strong foundation for success.
“We’re running with the same sort of structure, with or without Jen. The girls are well aligned with the structures we want to play,” Atkins said.
“They’ve learnt a lot from Jen as a person and as a player so there’s plenty to take forward. It’s exciting for the younger girls to have an opportunity and step up to the plate.”
New Lambton v Adamstown Rosebud
No.2 Sportsground, 3.40pm Saturday
New Lambton will look to kick-off season 2021 with a win after a disappointing end to 2020 saw them finish seventh, having claimed the championship the previous year.
It is a vastly different outfit to that of the previous season, with coaches Greg Lowe and Maddy Searl, along with the club’s technical director Cas Wright taking a youthful approach to the squad.
Former Jets defender Brooke Miller leads a list of new faces at Alder Park, which includes Georgia Minors who returns having been away from the game for a number of seasons.
“We’ve bought in some very strong players. We’ve got some good experience through the centre and also some great up and coming talent,” Lowe said.
“Bringing the younger loyal players through and bringing in those few older more experienced players will bring a good balance.”
A familiar face for the Eagles will be Adriana Jones, who made the switch to New Lambton mid-way through last season. The 25-year-old scored five goals in eight appearances.
A compact and well drilled Adamstown will prove a tough test for the Eagles, with a seemingly difficult run of matches against Warners Bay, Newcastle Olympic and Broadmeadow Magic to follow.
“We’re not putting pressure on ourselves. We want to make sure we’re very competitive and that we go in with a winning mindset,” Lowe said.
According to Rosebud coach Ryan Campbell, the experience gained by his young squad last season will yield positive results in 2021.
“The experience a lot of the players received playing first grade last year will pay off with a more confident and composed display in key games,” he said.
The arrival of Jemma Lawson and Ellyse Lynch at Adamstown will add further depth to Campbell’s squad, while also making up for the loss of Emma Bates and Carolina Cacic.
“The girls have had a great pre-season this year. We have played a range of games and they have held their own in the majority of matches,” Campbell said.
“We have played a number of games and results have been good but overall we don’t read much into these as competitive matches are a completely different ball game.”
The Buds became well known last year for their controlled style of football, with the prospect of an opening round match at Newcastle’s No. 2 Sportsground a tantalising one.
“You should expect to see a high tempo possession-based style from us and a high pressing style. I am hoping that we can maintain possession and field position in games to be in control of matches,” Campbell said.
“I believe No.2 Sportsground will suit our style due to the large spaces and good condition of the field.”
Maitland FC v Broadmeadow Magic
Cooks Square Park, 5pm Sunday
With the weekend’s other matches set down for Saturday afternoon, all eyes will be on Maitland on Sunday as they make their debut in the Herald Women’s Premier League against last year’s semi-finalists Broadmeadow Magic.
Magpies coach Keelan Hamilton, a former championship-winning mentor with New Lambton, has assembled a strong line-up as he looks to take a newly formed side to success in the club’s first year.
Headlined by the signing of Sophie Stapleford, Maitland boasts a line-up that includes Kaitlin Radstaak, who makes the move from New Lambton, along with Jets Academy player Bronte Peel.
According to Hamilton, Peel will be one to watch and has looked impressive for the Magpies in the pre-season.
“There’ll be some eyebrows raised this year. I’m quietly confident that we’ll be very competitive and those Thornton players who we have retained have a really good amount of quality and a good amount of desire to be better,” Hamilton said.
“They’re definitely eager to try and win some football matches.”
Maitland joins the Herald Women’s Premier League having taken over the licence previously held by Thornton, with Redbacks’ regulars Ainsley Childs, Taleah Mountford, Madison Gallegos and Danielle Redding among the players retained for season 2021.
“I hope that you’re going to see a side that when people come to watch see that we have a process in place and a way that we’re trying to play,” Hamilton said.
“It’s obviously been a big challenge taking over the Thornton licence and then establishing a new program off the back of that Thornton program.
“Internally, the only pressure on us is to be the best that we can be. The reality is that Thornton is coming off some really lean years. There’s no real pressure on us but there’s certainly some expectation on ourselves that we have to be more competitive.”
Jake Curley returns for another year at the helm of Broadmeadow Magic, with the coach hopeful his side can go one game further in 2020. Magic was defeated by Newcastle Olympic in the grand final qualifier last season.
“We’ve signed some good players. Everyone feels pretty confident. We haven’t really had much opportunity to play together as we’ve had a few injuries during the pre-season and we’ve only just signed Alison Logue,” Curley said.
Topflight goalkeepers have proved few and far between in the Herald Women’s Premier League with the signing of Logue potentially the most important for Magic’s hopes of premiership glory. Logue replaces Jess Shultz who fractured her knee and tibia.
“[Logue] has a really good presence and she gives the girls confidence by her being in goals. Having some experienced players like her helps us be more level-headed and she is a fantastic goalkeeper,” Curley said.
Broadmeadow will be without Gemma Harrison for the year but have added W-League experience with the signing of Ash Brodigan and Kirstyn Antoni (nee Pearce), along with midfielder Nadja Squires.
“Overall, I think we’ve definitely improved as a squad,” Curley said.
Charlestown Azzurri v Mid Coast FC has been postponed.