MATCH OF THE ROUND
Cooks Hill United FC v Kahibah FC
Saturday, March 5, 2.30pm
Newcastle Athletics Field
Cooks Hill and Kahibah will be out to bounce back from disappointing FFA Cup losses to lower-division sides in the NEWFM First Division season-opening match of the round.
Cooks Hill, who were seventh in their NEWFM First Division debut last year, lost on penalties to Dudley Redhead in the FFA Cup after drawing with National Premier League clubs Edgeworth and Weston in trials.
Kahibah also debuted in the NEWFM First Division last year, finishing fourth to make the semi-finals and bowed in the FFA Cup last month to Beresfield 2-1.
Captain-coach Andre Gumprecht steered Kahibah to the finals last year and the former Central Coast Mariner is at the helm again.
Kahibah have boosted their squad with Sean Clerke, Jayden Demir and goalkeeper Josh Cox from National Premier League (NPL) clubs as well as the likes of Daniel Bartlett, Jason Evans and Ash Illfield. However, goalkeeper Nick Hartnett has left to join Broadmeadow Magic.
Gumprecht said they had also lost class German player Max Eschner but looked in good shape for 2016.
“The aim is to build on what we achieved last year,” Gumprecht said.
“I think we are stronger on paper, but that won’t take you too far,” Gumprecht concluded.
Cooks Hill on the other hand have a new coach, former Adamstown and Weston assistant Blake Glennie and a revamped squad.
Glennie said only four players remain from last year’s line-up and Luke Alexander, Jack O’Toole and Tom Sparre are the notable fresh faces in the new-look team.
“It’s a young squad but I’m pretty happy with how we are going, with the mix of youth and experience,” Glennie said.
“Kahibah I think are one of the top two sides this year and should do very well, so this is a tough start to the year but we’re up for the challenge,” Glennie concluded.
West Wallsend SFC v South Cardiff FC
Saturday, March 5, 5pm
Demoted South Cardiff start their time in the NEWFM First Division against last year’s wooden spooners, West Wallsend.
Almost all of South Cardiff’s 2015 first-grade squad have left, mostly to NPL clubs, giving new coach Andrew Packer, an A-League grand final winner with Sydney in 2006 and a former Jets strength and conditioning manager, a tough challenge.
Parker said he was working with many of the club’s under 23 and 19s from last year as well as players from outside the region who are studying at the Lake Macquarie Regional Football Facility-based FC 11.
“I’d be disappointed if we didn’t make the top four,” Packer said.
“We’ve got a very young squad and they’ve done pretty well so far, but it’s a tough league to get results in,” Packer concluded.
West Wallsend coach Gary Rowe returns to face his own challenge at the Bluebells, who made a strong start last season before the loss of Mark Wilson and a wave of injuries took their toll.
Rowe said most of his squad has returned along with some new faces, including Michael Bailey and Ryan Cole.
“We’ve got four or five new guys and if we can keep everyone on deck, we’ll happily sit mid-table, and that’s the challenge for us,” Rowe said.
Toronto-Awaba FC v Wallsend FC
Sunday, March 6, 2.30pm
Lyall Peacock Field
Defending major premiers Wallsend are back bigger and better against a Toronto-Awaba side aiming to be competitive in 2016.
Wallsend made a stunning return to the competition last year, finishing third on goal difference then defeating minor premiers Valentine in the grand final.
Coach Josh Rufo remains at the helm and has added NPL defender Cameron Hughes, brothers Heath and Jake Kepreotes, former Toronto skipper Tim Davies and goalkeeper Luke Jennings.
Only one player, Kevin Orr, is not back from their grand final side and they again boost the likes of Chris Gazzard, Paul Wheeler, David Hodgson and Mitchell Cook.
“The aim is to be competitive again but we expect a rise on what we did last year,” Rufo said.
“The club wants to get promoted and we need everything on and off the field to be a good standard looking to next season,” Rufo concluded.
Toronto-Awaba coach Tony Jovcevski said his side had retained only three players from last year and would field an inexperienced line-up.
The side finished one point off the bottom last year and Jovcevski said the aim would be “trying to be competitive in 2016”.
“They are all young guys and it’s definitely going to be a challenge through the year,” Jovcevski said.
“We will find it tough but we’ll battle through it. They are all eager and the focus so far has been on getting our shape right and getting them to play to instructions,” Jovcevski concluded.
Cessnock City FC v s Singleton Strikers FC
Sunday, March 6, 2.30pm
Turner Park 1
New coach David Willoughby is keen to build on Singleton’s successful 2015 when they start their campaign against Cessnock City.
Willoughby, who has worked in high performance with Hunter Valley Football and Northern NSW Football, takes over a Strikers outfit which finished one point outside the finals last year.
Singleton have kept mostly the same squad and have recruited centre-half Dylan Schauder from Texas and midfielder Alex Clarke from England to complement their young players.
They have started well, with wins over Charlestown Juniors 3-0 and Merewether Advance 9-1 in the FFA Cup.
“It’s pretty much the same squad and the intensity and work ethic at training has been first class so far,” Willoughby said.
“It’s a very young team. I think Daniel Palozzi is the oldest player at 26, but they have been tremendous.
“The goal will be emulating last year’s performance, when they just missed the top four. Hopefully we can go one better.
“We’re into the third round of the FFA Cup, which is a first, so hopefully we can keep it going,” Willoughby concluded.
Cessnock will be looking to improve on last year’s effort of a second-last place finish.
Lake Macquarie City FC v Belmont Swansea United FC
Sunday, March 6, 2.30pm
Lake Macquarie will boost a strong line-up against a Belmont-Swansea team back under the control of Brad Paul in 2016.
Former Maitland and Adamstown coach Anthony Richards has taken over at Lake Macquarie, who finished second last year and he has brought with him several top signings.
Corey Fletcher, Steve Rospigliosi, Blake Green, Mat Grey and Joe Holt come to Lake Macquarie with a wealth of NPL experience. Sean Matthews, Brad Tate and goalkeeper Andrew Goldman have left but the core of the side remain, including Walker brothers, Sam, Tom, Dan and Chris.
The Roosters lost 2-1 to newly promoted Valentine in the FFA Cup and Richards was happy with how the side were progressing.
“I think four or five sides will be strong this year,” Richards said.
“We’re hoping for a bit of luck with injuries, and we should do well,” Richards concluded.
Paul, who coached Belmont-Swansea for five years before 2015, is back after incoming coach Graham Jones pulled out in pre-season for work and personal reasons.
Paul, who is also the club’s secretary, said the squad were resilient and on board with him and assistant coach Mick Stafford.
“The squad is pretty stable,” Paul said of the team which finished sixth last year.
“We’ve lost Luke Shearer and Shane Paul but we’ve brought in players like Nick Popel, Fletcher Price and Josh Hall.
“We had a strong under-19s last year and we’re working with several of those and they are looking good.
“We’ve won our three trials and beat Swansea 4-2 in the FFA Cup, so we’re pretty happy with how we are going so far,” Paul concluded.
Thornton Redbacks FC – Bye