By Declan Payne
2016 season:2nd, lost Grand Final 4-3 on pens v. Wallsend FC
Head coach: Josh Rufo
Belmont-Swansea finished second behind the promoted Lake Macquarie last season and lost out in the Grand Final to Wallsend – not a bad season. Belswans finished with the best defensive record in the NEWFM First Division competition in 2016, conceding only 23 goals.
There’s been a big turnover of players at Belmont-Swansea for the upcoming 2017 NEWFM Northern League One season – the likes of Daniel Rufo and Chris Gazzard are two of the new faces who are set to make a big difference for the Belswans this year, with Mitchell Cook and Daniel Bartlett also joining the boys at Blacksmiths.
Jamie Hadlow snagged 10 goals for the Belswans last season, and on paper looks to be one of the side’s big losses. Fresh faced Belmont-Swansea coach Josh Rufo is confident his side can easily cope with the departure of Hadlow.
“The majority of the squad from last year has moved on to other teams, retired or been released.
“To be very honest, I don’t think it (the loss of Hadlow) will hurt at all.
“I don’t think he would really compete with the players we bought in… I think the players we’ve replaced him with are at another level, so I’m not too worried at all.”
The key for Belswans this season will be former Wallsend captain Chris Gazzard, and defender Corey Wilson.
Gazzard will be instrumental in the centre of midfield for the Belswans this season, and Rufo praised the talented Cory Wilson.
“He can play left back, right back, and centre back.
“He’s a very versatile defender.”
Rufo also identified 19-year-old attacking player Cameron Lodge as the youngster to watch this season.
“He’s got a good technique… he’s very athletic, I think that people will be very impressed with his level of football.”
Belswans have been widely identified by opposition coaches as a side to watch and a top four finish has been tipped as the absolute minimum for this season, with Rufo identifying competitiveness and consistency as the key to success in 2017.
Cessnock City FC
2016 season: 11th
Head coach: Lino Gatti
The Hornets struggled big time last season, and finished in the last place with only 3 wins and 3 draws and leaked 71 goals – the highest in the league. This season, journeyman coach Lino Gatti has returned to Cessnock to take charge and has spoken at length of his belief the Hornets can work towards a spot in the first division of local football.
Gatti last coached at Cessnock in the mid-90s and has returned to the Hornets with big ambitions. A massive clear-out after a dismal 2016 followed Gatti’s arrival, with changes in the direction and ambitions of the club pointing some players away. Wade Atwell and Zaz Thomson are among those who have departed the Hornets.
The ins look promising for Cessnock – young Brodie Williams joins the side from Lambton Jaffas, and Travas McCabe joins from Zone Premier League (ZPL) side Warners Bay.
Skipper and 300+ game veteran, David O’Hearn, will add some much-needed experience to a young Cessnock squad this season, along with keeper Mat Zechel.
As with many 2017 NEWFM Northern League One clubs, the focus is on working towards the layStation®4 National Premier Leagues (NPL) in 2020 and Cessnock is no different. They are focussing on developing young, local products that will play for the shirt and play well.
This season, the Hornets will desperately want to improve on their last place finish on 2016.
The personnel overhaul and the positive changes to club culture are sure to hold Cessnock in good stead for the season as they aim to improve and fight their way back up the table in 2017.
Cooks Hill United
2016 season: 8th
Head coach: Graham Law
Cooks Hill stuttered to an 8th place finish last season, but with positive recruitment across the board, the Cookers will be looking to tighten up at the back and get firing up front as they’re heavily tipped as one of the favourites for 2017.
Formerly Adamstown manager Graham Law has linked up with the Cookers this year and said the decision to join Cooks Hill was down to the ambition of the young club. In his short time at the club, Law has taken control of the squad and overhauled much of what was at the AthField.
Last year’s Tom Sparre has left to play in the Northern NSW PS4 NPL for Lakes, and young attackers Matt Williams and Ty Cousins have both departed to play for Wallsend this season. The list of players in is massive – Jake Hamilton, Hakan Canli, and Callum Gallagher are just some of the names from Adamstown that have joined Cooks Hill this season. Former German third division player Jonas Ramspott has also joined for 2017.
Of the new signings, there is one in particular that Law will be expecting big things from. Jake Hamilton is only 20 years old – a baby in goalkeeping terms, but a player who will be key to a lot of what Cooks Hill want to do this season.
“You always hope that your goalkeeper is going to be a key player… Hamilton had played 5 first grade games at Adamstown last season.
“That first-grade experience will stand him in really good stead this season.
“I hope he steps up to be a key player and starts to mature… your goalkeeper is a really key position.”
Law regards his 19s and 23s squads as strong and expects a lot of these players to step up and compete for a spot in First Grade.
“Every one of them at the club I regard as a potential first grader.
“They’ve just got to improve in their own age category, and they’ll get their opportunity.”
Widely tipped to finish high in the standings, Law said he believes it’s a year too early for his side. Despite this, the benchmark for Cooks Hill this season is finals football and the squad they’ve assembled will no doubt regard this as the absolute minimum.
2016 season: 3rd, lost Semi Finals 2-1 on aggregate v Belmont Swansea
Head coach: Andre Gumprecht
With former Mariners man Andre Gumprecht at the helm again this season, Kahibah have been tipped for a big season in 2017. Unfortunate to miss out on the second spot in 2016, Kahibah will be aiming to tighten up at the back on the way to success this season.
With Gumprecht himself hanging up the playing boots, Kahibah has recruited heavily for this season. Heath Kepreotes and former Broadmeadow man Nick Harnett join to beef up the backline, however, it’s up front where the big names have rolled in.
Former Wallsend man Dave Hodgson and Belswan Jamie Hadlow have joined Kahibah this season and will no doubt hope to add to the Kahibah’s 61-goal haul of 2016.
Despite the wealth of experience available to Gumprecht, it’s a couple of young boys he’s tipped as the ones to watch this year. Jamie Penfold and Bailey Chaplain were at the club last year and South Cardiff’s Matt Parker joins them this season. Gumprecht was confident Penfold, who scored 10 goals last season, could again perform in 2017.
“I think he (Penfold) has the potential to step up (this season).
“Chaplain is currently overseas in Spain… with a youth organisation over there, trains (professionally) every day.
“We need to see (him) when he gets back… he could be a player with a big future.
“We would like to have plenty of experienced players mixed with young players who can grow alongside (each other).
“Those three players certainly have the potential to do this.”
Kahibah have a number of strong attacking weapons available this season, but according to Gumprecht, the focus is undoubtedly on tightening up at the back and building from there.
“One of the (potential) problems with signing a lot of forwards… is that teams (lose focus) on the defence.
“We are different… it doesn’t matter how many star strikers we sign, our defence has to be rock solid first.
“There are no negotiations.”
Widely tipped by many to be there or thereabouts at the end of the season, Gumprecht‘s focus is on the performances and the growth of his side. Despite the focus moving away from ‘points and places’, the top four is still a minimum for Kahibah this season.
New Lambton FC
2016 season: 7th in Zone Premier League
Head coach: Andrew Packer
New Lambton were the big winners in a competition restructure at the end of last season, promoted from the Zone Premier League (ZPL) into the NEWFM Northern League One competition despite a 7th place finish. This season, the pressure will be on new coach Andrew Packer’s men to step up and show they’re worthy of their place in the second tier of NNSWF.
Packer has linked up to coach the Eagles from South Cardiff and boasts a tidy resume, having won a Hyundai A-League title under Ange Postecoglou with the Brisbane Roar. New Lambton’s jump to the second division of local football has attracted a couple of handy players for the season ahead – Nick Pepper and Josh Casey have followed Packer from South Cardiff, with Harry Benbow and Rory Tolhurst coming from Lambton Jaffas.
The key to the Eagles hopes this season will be captain Dan Luther and Peter Josevski, who Packer said will be a real stand out once he is free of injury.
Packer praised the collective nature of his squad and said his side is lucky to not be reliant on a single marquee player.
“That’s the great thing about our team, we’re quite strong across the board.
“We might not have the best individuals in the comp, but hopefully we’re strong across the 11 that take the pitch.”
Having lost some experience from last year’s ZPL squad, this year’s squad has an average age of around 22 and boasts a number of promising youngsters – among them Maurice Bechelli.
The former Hamilton Olympic junior spent the last two years focussing on school, but the 18-year-old has returned to have another crack at football and Packer is tipping him for big things.
“I’d be more than comfortable to put him in the first team straight away, and he’s only 18.
“He’s just an outstanding young player… he’s a striker, lightning quick, very good dribbling, and a great finisher.
“The best thing about him is he’s attitude, he’s very relaxed and doesn’t let anything upset him.”
Despite only being promoted at the end of last season, the word is out that New Lambton may be a potential dark horse in the NEWFM Northern League One this season. The focus for the Eagles is having a solid season across the five grades, playing their own brand of football, and being in the fight for a finals place come to the business end of the season.
2016 season: 6th
Head coach: David Willoughby
Singleton Strikers were pretty middle of the road last season as a young squad helped them to a sixth place finish and a goal difference of -4. This season, the young squad – now a year older – will be hoping to improve across the park.
The Strikers have recruited two names from England for the season ahead – Caelin Preedy is a strong centre back and Gail Persane a striker. Looking more locally, former Weston boys Brad Millar and Tristan Muir have linked up with the Singleton squad, along with a couple of other young additions.
The only loss to the side is Singleton’s joint leading goal scorer in 2016, Kieron Burrell. His departure leaves big question marks in the side, according to Strikers coach David Willoughby.
“I can’t answer that (where the goals are going to come from. I don’t know.
“We’re hoping the front 3 can score 60% of our goals, but if you wanted me to nominate who will score the goals that we need, I don’t know.”
One player, in particular, that may be looking to pop up and score the goals that Singleton need this season, is youngster Nathan Hall.
The 18-year-old scored six goals in thirteen First Grade appearances last season, and according to Willoughby will only get better.
“He played 13 First Grade games last season… and started in two first grade games last season.
“He’s one to watch… he’ll be one of the standout players of the competition, without a doubt.”
Hall will no doubt be one of the key players for a very young Singleton side, along with commanding young centre-back Jackson Skinner and goalkeeper Stuey Plant – who Willoughby described as ‘the best ‘keeper in the competition’.
The Strikers, like many other sides, have a three-year plan in place to ensure PS4 NPL qualification in 2020. For this season, however, Singleton are targeting a run into the semifinals.
South Cardiff FC
2016 season: 9th
Head coach: Denis Fajkovic
South Cardiff are a proud club and after struggling to a ninth-place finish last season and scoring a tied lowest 25 goals, the Gunners will be looking to make vast improvements in 2017.
The Gunners have recruited heavily for the season ahead, Denis Fajkovic the biggest name of the bunch. Fajkovic arrives as the only player-coach in the league this season, and his experience in the top tier of local football will serve Southy well. Josh Casey has followed Andrew Packer to New Lambton, and David Hecimovic, but Antonio Klaudon Ahmataj joins from Singleton and Troy Rudge links up with South Cardiff to help boost their goal-scoring stocks.
With only 25 goals in 20 games last season, South Cardiff desperately need someone to provide the goals in 2017 – and Fajkovic is confident he’s got that covered.
“Antonio Atmataj and Troy Rudge… it’ll be key for us that they get firing.
“(They are) our main strikers, and I’m expecting them to score ten goals minimum… I’ve set that target for them.”
One midfielder Fajkovic is hoping will have a big year and chip in with a few goals is youngster Ben McCabe.
“McCabe needs to have a huge year, he’s been playing a lot of trials and I’m expecting him to do well.
“He’s got a bit of pace and he’s tidy on the ball.
“I want a big year from him.”
Two other youngsters that South Cardiff will be looking to this season are Daniel Wells and Cameron Herring.
“They’re all in that same age group (20-21), they can all compete in the NPL.
“It’s just whether they get their footballing brains and how they adapt to playing the way we want.”
With potential PS4 NPL selection in 2020 on the minds of most of the NEWFM Northern League One sides, South Cardiff are looking to build for the future and are keen to move on from last year’s disappointing 9th place finish. The Gunners will shoot for a top-four spot and will be disappointed with anything less.
Thornton Redbacks FC
2016 season: 5th
Head coach: Darrel McAllister
The Redbacks enjoyed a solid 2016 without cracking open the top four – a +6 goal difference a good foundation for coach Darrel McAllister to build on as Thornton charge towards 2017.
A different result or two could’ve spelt success for the Redbacks, and coach Darrel McAllister has recruited with the top four in mind. Former Maitland and Weston man Tyson Fletcher joins the squad, along with Patrick Wand and Josh Colman from Weston. Wade Atwell, formerly of Cessnock, also shapes as a key signing at Thornton.
The new signings aren’t restricted to the playing field, however, with former Weston assistant coach and under 22’s coach Gary Wand joining the side as an assistant to Darrel McAllister.
The PS4 NPL experience of the likes of Jamie Subat and Tyson Fletcher is invaluable to the Thornton side, as is the leadership of last year’s top goal scorer and Thornton’s player of the year Nathan McAllister.
It’s this wealth of experience that coach Darrel McAllister will help the youngsters under their tutelage flourish. The likes of Cal Baxter, Jack Halverson, and Tanner White have been identified as youngsters with a big year ahead, however, McAllister reserved praise for one junior in particular.
“One of the guys who’s probably jumped slightly in front of the pack is Jacob Bartlett.
“He’s been playing a bit of First Grade… scored a couple of goals in the trials already, so he’s been doing pretty well for us.
“There’s a few of them (young players) getting around… but if you had to write one name down it’d be Jacob Bartlett.”
In 2017 it’s Nathan McAllister, Jock Thompson and Jamie Subat that will be crucial to the success of Thornton. The trio has been described by coach Darrel McAllister as ‘super competitors’, and young Nathan McAllister and Thompson have been two of Thornton’s best for a number of years.
SAtrong performances from the side’s elder statesman and the young up and comers stepping up into the First Grade fold will decide the success or failure of the Redbacks season. A tight competition will make it tough, but Thornton will be hoping to crack the top four this season and be in the frame come finals.
Toronto Awaba FC
2016 season: 10th
Head coach: Adam Rutledge
For a side which let through 70 goals in 20 matches last season, five wins isn’t a bad record. Unfortunately for the Stags, it wasn’t enough to lift them any higher than 10th – second last – on the ladder. With Toronto tied for the lowest goals scored last season, coach Adam Rutledge has it all to do to lift the Stags up the table in 2017.
Toronto has only lost a couple of players for the season ahead, and their recruitment this season has been focussed locally – starting at the top, with last year’s u/17’s coach Adam Rutledge taking control of the First Grade side for 2017.
Cody Armstrong is one of the locals that returns from his time at Edgeworth, and Blake Glennie will turn out for the Stags this season after coaching at Cooks Hill in 2016. Blake Redmond and Nick McKay will also link up with the club for the 2017 season.
Toronto struggled last year with only 16 points from their 20 matches, and Rutledge is confident a team effort from his side can help the Stags improve in 2017.
“From what I saw of last year, there was more of an individual (effort).
“All signs up until now (is that) things have definitely changed, which is important.
“There’s now a one in all in approach to the season… you win together, you lose together.”
All five grades trained together throughout the pre-season and the exposure of the younger boys to the First Grade squad has paid dividends for a few. Nick McKay, Cody Armstrong, and Jessi Cowie have been identified by Rutledge as youngsters that will have an impact on proceedings this season.
“Their enthusiasm, willingness to learn… and that extra enthusiasm with youth on their side, that’s definitely a key factor.
“I think a year in first grade for those younger guys (will serve them well).
“They lack experience but make up for it with enthusiasm.”
The Stags struggled last year and will be looking to turn it around and be competitive this season. Toronto are confident 2017 will be different and are confident a new-found camaraderie will help them match it with the league’s best throughout the season.
2016 season: 4th, won Grand Final 4-3 on pens v. Belmont Swansea
Head coach: Chris Gallagher
Wallsend enjoyed a dream finals run last season – after finishing in 4th, the Red went on to win the lot. Victory in the Grand Final over Belswans last season will have made Wallsend hungry for further success, and former Wallsend legend Chris Gallagher turned coach will have to get his strikers up and firing to succeed this season.
As with a number of the NEWFM Northern League One sides, Wallsend has not been immune to the turnover of players. Matt Williams and Luke Alexander have joined from Cooks Hill, and former Weston players Connor Mason and James Wand are among the new faces at a very young Red Devils.
Despite some solid recruiting from coach Chris Gallagher, Wallsend has lost last year’s grand final heroes Dave Hodgson and Chris Gazzard.
According to Gallagher, the loss of Hodgson has hit Wallsend hard.
“It’s had to change the way we play the game (which) was pretty much based off what Dave could do for us.
“He’s a quality player, there’s not many other people in the game in Newcastle that can do those things (on the ball).
“Not only that, he’s a good leader on the field and off the field, everybody respects him.
“He’s a big loss.”
One player that the Red Devils may turn to in order to fill the void left by Hodgson is 16-year-old Ty Cousins, who was praised by Gallagher.
“Attacking footballer, great feet… strong young boy, good on the ball.
“He definitely looks good this year.”
The Red Devils will be hoping for a real team effort this year in order to replicate the accomplishments of 2016, and Trent Milton and Kyle Macorig are two senior players with big-game experience that will be key to success at Wallsend this season.
Despite winning back to back grand finals, Wallsend aren’t getting ahead of themselves this year. With PS4 NPL promotion in 2020 on their mind as well, the Red Devils are targeting another final’s run and focussing on building around a young squad for the future.
West Wallsend FC
2016 season: 7th
Head coach: Gary Rowe
West Wallsend toiled in 2016 to finish in 7th place and will be aiming to improve on last season’s efforts as the baby Bluebirds head into 2017.
Boasting a squad with a maximum age of 26, Westie has recruited in line with this youth policy for 2017. Zac Thomson joins from Cessnock, and Brad Andrews from last year PS4 NPL Grand Final winners, Edgeworth. The Bluebirds have lost only the one player from last years Firat Grade squad, with Tyler Warren heading to Hamilton Olympic.
Despite having such a young squad, West Wallsend coach Gary Rowe singled out one young gun in particular as crucial to his side’s success this season.
Bailey Cox is a Hunter Sports High graduate and a former Weston boy, and Rowe has identified the rock at the back as one of his side’s best.
“We need him to guide us around a little bit this year.
“Our defensive output (this season) is going to be decided by how well he plays this season.
“He’s one that we expect a lot from.”
West Wallsend scored only 30 goals last season to finish at the third lowest scoring team in the competition. Tye Jones and Ryan Cole scored 16 of these 30, and Rowe said he expects more of the pair this year.
“They should be certainly top of our goal scoring charts every year.
“Last year was a little bit of a disappointment with our output, but they were suspended for a lot of the time so that didn’t help them get the tallies up.
“I’d expect double tallies from both of those guys, at least.”
In order to improve, Rowe has identified his side’s attitude as the most important attribute if any success is to come to Johnston Park in 2017. West Wallsend will be aiming to consolidate their position mid table this year and will be hoping their young squad has what it takes.