By Renee Valentine
Since Warners Bay secured the championship trophy last year there has been plenty of player movements, coaching changes and some big signings in the Herald Women’s Premier League (WPL).
As the first round of the competition approaches, we run a rule over the seven teams comprising this year’s league.
All in all, it is shaping up as one of most competitive seasons since the WPL began in 2009.
Coach: Ben Herron
Last season: They dropped just two games on their way to securing the minor premiership but lost 7-3 to Wallsend across the two-legged semi-final.
Squad news: Adamstown has lost a host of experienced players from last year’s squad, including Jasmin Courtney, Rhali Dobson, Lauren Allan, Olivia Trinka, Lucy Hewson and Serena Carter. Coach Ben Herron is putting his faith in youth as the club rebuilds. New faces include experienced defender Isobel Cootes, attacking player Sarah Moore and midfielder Laura Attwood. Chelsea Lucas makes the step up to first grade from Adamstown’s 16s side and midfielder Kate Lindsay returns from injury.
What the coach says: “We are in a rebuilding phase after so many departures from last season. We overachieved last year, we even surprised ourselves. We might take several rounds to find our feet and put things together, but our potential is there in the squad to get results when we finally find that groove.”
Bottom line: They have sustained some heavy losses, including most of their strike power. Rhali Dobson, Jasmin Courtenay, Olivia Trinka and Lauren Allan accounted for 49 of their 61 goals last season. It will be hard to replicate the efforts of last season but they cannot be discounted. Clare Cummings is capable of turning the game on her own and will lead the young side well, along with Emily Frost. Of the younger brigade are Elodie Dagg and Beth Le Gay Brereton, who produced some solid performances last season and will be ones to watch. Can’t see them at the top of the table but could cause some upsets and end up in a fight for a top-four position.
Coach: Cassidy Davis
Last season: Finished second on the ladder then beat Merewether 3-1 in the semi-final before securing the championship with a 1-0 win over Wallsend in the Grand Final.
Squad news: They have lost Westfield W-League player and last year’s WPL leading scorer Adriana Jones, outstanding goalkeeper Niki Dieter, fleet-footed twins Maddie and Taylah Smith, reliable centre-back Laura Rapley and strike weapon, Kally Lewis. But they have recruited well, securing the services of Jenna Kingsley and Brooke Miller from the Newcastle Jets W-League squad. Georgia Minors joins Warners Bay from the Emerging Jets program and goalkeeper Rhianon Hines from the Central Coast Mariners. They have also signed Sophie Stapleford, who returns from time off due to a brain tumour.
What the coach says: “Myself and the girls all have a goal to become minor and major premiers for the 2017 WPL season. I want to make sure the girls are enjoying their football but also I expect a winning mentality and to stay consistent throughout the season”
Bottom line: They have three Jets players in their ranks in player-coach Cassidy Davis, Jenna Kingsley and Brooke Miller. Kingsley will add punch up front and Miller experience at the back. Nadja Squires, Toria Campbell, Airlie Davis and Corinne Krupa remain from the championship-winning squad and Jemma House will be back from playing in the United States in May to give the side another injection. They were the quiet achievers last season and surprised many but will have a huge target on their backs this season. Have the players to repeat the feats of last season and will definitely be in the mix come finals time.
Coach Cassie Koppen
Last season: Finished third on the ladder, lost semi-final 3-1 to Warners Bay.
Squad news: United have sustained some big losses, the biggest probably goalkeeper Imogene Tomasene, who has been the league’s standout shot-stopper for a number of years. They have also lost attacking weapon, Sophie Jones. Both have returned to the Mid North Coast, where they live. Merewether have also lost midfielders Bronte Walters to injury and Clare Mansfield to time off. They have secured some more than handy acquisitions in former Westfield W-League goalkeeper Alison Logue and Newcastle Jets W-League players Rhali Dobson and Grace Macintyre. Wide player Rebekah Stuart makes the step up from the 18s squad.
What the coach says: “We’ve got a very strong squad that, I think, should contend for top-two positions. We are lacking a bit of depth but our 18s are stronger this year and we will call on them.”
Bottom line: They have lost some quality players but have recruited well and still have plenty of experience and talent in the likes of core players Jane McDonald and Lori Depczynski. Sarah Halvorsen and Leticia Quinlan took their games to another level last season and will be key players again this season. They are a quality, experienced side and should be one of the pace-setters of the competition. Dobson will add some fire up front, which has been probably their biggest weakness in recent years. They will be there come finals time.
Coach: Gary Wilson
Squad news: They have had several changes to the line-up this season. Southy has a new coach in former National League player and former PS4 NPL coach Gary Wilson on board. They have lost player-coach Elyce Bates to the Central Coast, former Matilda Amber Neilson has retired, striker Kirralee Gardner is having time off and Chloe Hepplewhite plus Faith and Kiarra Lewis have also left. They welcome back former Jets player Stacey Day from injury, experienced defender Emma Stevenson from playing All Age with Cessnock, Eliza Tupper from Thornton, Georgia Amess from Wallsend plus Emily Wicks and Georgia Carr.
What the coach says: “I expect results. We expect to be in the top four but want to be better than that. We want to win it.”
Bottom line: Gary Wilson has put the squad through a tough strength and conditioning program since before Christmas and expect Southy to hit the season flying. They have retained quality players in Naomi Abbott, Laura Byrnes, Gemma Pearce, Erin Wilson and Maddy Searl and matched it with every team in the league last year but suffered from a lack of depth. That looks to be addressed this season and if they play to their potential there is no reason why they won’t be there come finals time.
Coach: Club technical director Jason Harrison is in charge of the women until a replacement for Marc Hingston is found. Hingston had to take time off due to illness.
Last season: Finished fourth. Lost Grand Final 1-0 to Warners Bay.
Squad news: From their Grand Final side Wallsend has lost Newcastle Jets W-League player Jenna Kingsley, who scored 21 goals for them last season, and Briony Halcombe (retired), who scored 12. They have also lost fleet-footed wide player Shannon Day to the Mid North Coast, talented goalkeeper Bec Saunders and Kristy Houghton, who are both having time away from the game. Lisa Cochrane has returned to help the Emerging Jets and Abbie Heffernan is having time off to study. They have gained striker Kally Lewis from Warners Bay, goalkeeper Jess Sanderson from Mid North Coast, and Gabbie Ariburton and Britanny Duff return to the game from time off.
What the coach says: “The team are overall training very well and in a good space technically, tactically, physically and psychologically and ahead of this time last season as a team unit. The club’s aim is to be in and around the top four come finals and hopefully go one better than last season.”
Bottom line: They have lost a good coach in Marc Hingston and a host of experienced players. But they have retained talent in the likes of unsung workhorse Laura Hall and Newcastle Jets W-League player Libby Copus-Brown and experienced game-changer Keely Gawthrop. They will be a combination of youth and experience and it may take some time to adjust to the losses. They were arguably the best team on paper last season but did not always deliver. This year they are definitely capable of being in the mix for a semi-final position but the top two may be out of reach at this stage.
Mid North Coast
Coach: Mick Day
Last season: Finished last on the ladder without winning a game
Squad news: They have lost goalkeeper Jess Sanderson but have been bolstered by the return of home-grown players Imogene Tomasone, Shannon Day and Sophie Jones, who have all been travelling to play and train for Newcastle-based teams for several years. They also get Maddie Stockham back from injury.
What the coach says: “We’ve got a two to five-year development plan but we have set goals high and achievable. They are team goals and individual goals. The goal is to make finals but there is a long way to go and a lot of smaller goals along the way. They leaked a lot of goals last season and to achieve that finals goal we can’t let so many in, so one goal is to have a clean sheet. Another is to win a game. Mid North Coast haven’t won a game since 2015.”
Bottom line: Mid North Coast can only improve on last season and the club look to have some solid plans in place to make that happen. In fact, they look capable of making the top four. They produced some noteworthy performances by playing with sheer guts and enthusiasm last season but a lack of depth and experienced leaders was telling. They have filled that void with the signings of Tomasone, Jones and Day. Expect players like Courtney Anderson and Samantha Bestwick to thrive with those players around them and don’t be surprised to see them cause quite a few upsets.
Coach: Alan Primmer
Last season: Second last
Squad news: They have lost leader Sophie Milton and Eliza Tuppa but have recruited promising player Kristy Martin from playing All Age for last season’s beaten grand finalists Mayfield. Younger players Katie Smee, Tayla Grant and Isabella Primmer will be expected to have more of a role with the top team this season.
What the coach says: “We are looking to improve on 2016. For us, from day one we have wanted to every year decrease the goals we’ve conceded and by doing that it makes you so much more competitive. The goal for this year is under 40 goals; if we can do that it’s a continual improvement and it means we’re far more competitive in every game.”
Bottom line: Thornton have experience in Ash Vickery, Celeste Edwards-Ortega, Kristy Martin and goalkeeper Danielle Redding, but those four are all still quite young themselves. The Redbacks have been hurt by a lack of depth in recent years but the change in the substitution rule could play in their favour and help level the playing a field a little bit. It still looks like the season may again be a struggle at times and can’t see them making the top four but other teams still won’t be able to take them lightly.
Sunday, March 12
First-grade kick-offs 2.15pm
Warners Bay v Adamstown at John St Oval;
Merewether v South Wallsend at Evans Park;
Mid North Coast v Thornton at Taree Zone Field;
Wallsend have the bye