What a season 2019 turned out to be. Right from the word go, the competition was neck-and-neck with not just one or two teams battling it out near the top, but six – all attempting to cram into a tightly contested Premiership and top-four race which went down to the wire right to the very end on the final matchday – making it one of the closest competitions in league history.
Things were just as tight down the other end of the table, as the bottom three sides chopped and changed positions right until the very end with major upsets and memorable moments aplenty in what was a year full of excitement.
Maitland FC – PREMIERS
It was one of if not the greatest year in Magpies’ history as the side from the Coalfields took out their first-ever Premiership title on top of a tremendous performance in the FFA Cup. With an undefeated record at home, Maitland managed to finish five points clear at the top of the table despite winning the league in the final round. Due to having multiple wash-outs early on leading to games in hand of their rivals, the side flew under the radar and sat a few places below the top for the majority of the year. When it mattered most though, the team produced the results only losing one game from their last 12. Captain Carl Thornton and young star Zach Thomas were both key anchors in their defence earning themselves spots in the NPL NNSW Team of the Year, as did their striker Joel Wood who carried his weight in the goal-scoring department notching up 13 for the season. An area the side excelled in was their ability to turn the tide of a game late on with 14 of their 44 goals – almost a third of their season’s goals – coming in the last 5 minutes of a match. They showed that skill again in the second leg of the Semi-Finals to overcome Broadmeadow in exhilarating fashion thanks to a Matt Thompson stoppage-time goal to advance to their first-ever top-tier Grand Final. Unfortunately for Maitland, they came up against an in-form and determined Edgeworth side who managed to score two late goals to win 2-0, however, they made up for the result with a positive performance in the NPL Finals Series after progressing to the final four.
Lambton Jaffas – 2nd
2019 was a year of change for the Jaffas and although at times there were some serious question marks raised over whether they’d feature in the top four, James Pascoe’s side overcame their challenges to secure finals for the third year in a row. Despite losing a wealth of experience in Jobe Wheelhouse and brothers Joel and Ryan Griffiths as well as star youngsters Ben Hay and Marcus Duncan in the off-season, Lambton kicked off their season on a hot unbeaten run before suddenly encountering a huge lapse in form forcing them to fight to the very last round of the regular season. Braedyn Crowley showed his class in attack managing to attain the Golden Boot for the league with 14 goals, but it was further down the field in defence where the Jaffas really shone, especially in the latter and crucial part of the year. Brad Swancott and newly recruited goalkeeper, former Hyundai A-League Newcastle Jet Ben Kennedy were brick walls in between the sticks keeping eight clean sheets between them over the year, and in their last six games, conceding just one goal. Injuries plagued the team at the wrong end of the year though, and as a result, they bowed out of the Semi-Finals against Edgeworth for the second consecutive year losing 5-1 on aggregate.
Edgeworth Eagles – 3rd & CHAMPIONS
Up until the final matchday, the Edgeworth Eagles were in with a shot of achieving a record-equalling fifth consecutive Premiership but fell short in the last few rounds. Their large list of missing personnel and a busy schedule thanks to FFA Cup duties gave them no favours, but the Eagles still featured in the top four for all of 2019 and were the only team who picked up a win against every other top-five team. Given their self-made high standards though, the defending Premiers struggled to find the same consistency experienced in years prior losing a total of six matches over the season – the most they’ve conceded since 2011 – including a 3-1 loss to Valentine in Round 20 which derailed their title plans. They did improve in the goalscoring department knocking in 44 over the regular-season with their new front-man Oliver Smith grabbing 12 from his 15 games, while their long list injuries also allowed young players to step up and shine. Aden Gardner was one of those and his spectacular year earned a spot in the Team of the Year, while teenager Archie Finn also made a name for himself following some terrific performances. Although they missed out on a historic Premiership, the Eagles showed their mettle with big performances over the course of the Semi-Finals to progress to their fifth straight Grand Final winning 5-1 on aggregate against Lambton before subsequently taking out their third Championship title in five years after defeating Maitland 2-0.
Broadmeadow Magic – 4th
Boasting one of the more star-studded line-ups in the league, Broadmeadow Magic didn’t live up to the Premiership heights they were aiming for but still proved to be one of the most difficult teams to handle banging in a league-high 46 goals. Magic thrived in the ‘big’ games all year only tasting defeat on one occasion in their eight games played against the other top-five sides. They spent most the season in the top four, boosted by their great home record where the only lost match was in their opening one at Magic Park, but their form took a hit forcing them to win their last two matches to qualify for finals for the fifth consecutive year. James Virgili again gave opposition defenders nightmares finishing with 13 goals, while Mitch Oxborrow controlled the midfield notching up nine goals of his own and plenty of assists. Youngster Jeremy Wilson also featured in all of their matches and his development will be one to watch in 2020. The Magicians met the Premiers Maitland in the Semi-Finals, but after going down on the away goals rule in the dying stages, they couldn’t send out their departing Head Coach Ruben Zadkovich out on another Grand Final winner.
Weston Bears – 5th
What a year it was for the Weston Bears. With a renewed and revitalised squad, helmed by new coach Kew Jaliens, the side fell agonisingly short of a finals return despite attaining 37 points – a total that would have put them in 2nd place last year. Spending a few weeks at the top of the table and in the Premiership race, just three wins from their last eight hindered their chances. They did manage to take out one of the ‘El Clasicoals’ though, as well as victories over Edgeworth and Lambton with an attractive, attacking style of play scoring 44 goals and at least one in every game of the year, with new recruits Jason Tjien-Fooh and Liam Wilson showing their class. Although defenders Nathan Morris and Zac Sneddon both had strong campaigns, defensively is where the team let themselves down as they produced the fourth worst defensive record in the league with a total of 33 goals conceded. While 2019 didn’t end like they had hoped, they’ve established a solid foundation to build for the upcoming season.
Charlestown City Blues – 6th
For the second year in a row, Charlestown finished in sixth spot painfully just a few points outside the top four. A loss on the final matchday to Broadmeadow saw them drop from third to sixth and was a killer blow in an otherwise fruitful season. As was the story last year, the Blues defended well but they failed to score goals regularly enough compared to the teams above them. Goalkeeper Nathan Archbold and fullback Riley McNaughton both had great campaigns playing roles attaining the equal-second best defensive stats and keeping the side’s seven clean sheets, but only 35 goals were scored down the other end. While a highlight of the year will be completing the double over Edgeworth, early losses to the likes of Adamstown and the Jets Youth proved costly in the end. It’s now been five years since Charlestown featured in the post-season despite their inspiring performances throughout the year but with a new Head Coach, Graham Law, set to arrive in 2020, the change of style may light a spark for the Blues in their quest for finals football.
Hamilton Olympic – 7th
Having been touted as a top-four contender this year, it was largely a disappointing year for Hamilton Olympic. The boys in blue never really found cohesion throughout the year, other than a big 4-0 win over the Premiers Maitland that was backed up with a six-game winless streak. The side managed just seven wins from the season but did come within a whisker of playing in the FFA Cup Round of 32, only narrowly going down 2-1 to the Magpies in seventh round. Scott Pettit and international man Shinichi Kawachi were the main stars in attack scoring 16 between them (eight each) but that equalled almost 50% of the team’s total goals, and while their defence was much stronger, it was a tale of two halves. In the first 11 games, they conceded 11 goals but leaked 21 in the next 11. There were definitely moments of brilliance that proved Olympic could be a top-four side, but their performances against the teams above them just weren’t up to scratch to warrant a high finish.
Newcastle Jets Youth – 8th
What started out as 2019 with promising and threatening signs for the Jets Youth, quickly slipped away as the season hit a mid-season slump that’s been experienced many times before. At one point the team sat in the top three of the competition, but with their stars such as Angus Thurgate, Pat Langlois, Jack Simmons were made unavailable, the team struggled to continue their form through the busy-part of the season. They managed to accrue 16 points in the first half of the competition but could only muster five in the back-half and went the last eight matches without a win. Maki Petratos was a stand-out for the young Jets and proved a handful for opposition defenders all year, while goalkeeper Noah James also showcased a top year in between the sticks and was arguably one of the better players in the competition in his position. With the team’s focus on development into the Hyundai A-League squad, Lawrie McKinna and his coaching staff will take comfort and pride in seeing many of the young stars make appearances at the top level.
Lake Macquarie City Roosters – 9th
Lakes were hyped as a potential dark horse for the 2019 season, but a terrible start to the year hindered any chances of a strong position on the table, and instead the team battled their way to avoid the wooden spoon by one point. Adamstown and the Jets Youth were the only sides the Roosters managed victories over this year and it wasn’t hard to see why the team struggled as the team only scored 23 goals – 12 less than last year. That was no fault of captain Sam Walker, however, the reigning Graham Jennings Medallist and Golden Boot winner, once again excelled for the team despite their woes scoring more than half the team’s overall goals. With 54 goals conceded the team struggled defensively as well, although without the efforts of goalkeeper Stuart Plant and mid-season signing Callum Bower, it could have been much more. 2020 will see former multiple-time NEWFM Northern League One championship-winning coach Josh Rufo take over from Nick Webb as Head Coach looking to turn the team’s fortunes around.
Valentine Phoenix – 10th
A few new, major off-season signings for Valentine couldn’t lead to any greater success as the side avoided last-place, they couldn’t assemble any sort of form to work their way up the table. Ben Hay, Jacob Bailey and Bailey Garland all arrived at the club and produced some terrific performances, but injuries and unavailable players inundated an already thin roster leaving the side to squander which included a seven-game losing streak midway through the season. The major highlight of their season was their underdog FFA Cup run that was halted at the last hurdle before the national Round of 32 stages against Edgeworth, however, got their revenge by effectively spoiling the Eagles historic Premiership party with a 3-1 win in Round 20. While the side were only silenced to nil on three occasions in the year, defence was a major issue for the Phoenix conceding 60 goals – the most a club has conceded in the league since 2012. In a glimmer of hope for Valentine’s future, many young players, such as Kaleb Pearson and Kaelen Bourke, stepped up and did well in the First Grade level and they’ll be hoping their young players can quickly develop into consistent performers in 2020.
Adamstown Rosebud – 11th
In their 135th celebration season, what featured much promise and hope for the Rosebuds ended in dismay and despair as they finished at the bottom of the table for the first time since being relegated back in 2007. With one of the youngest squads in the competition, coach Shane Cansdell-Sherriff had his team consistently performing well, competing and fighting in most of their matches, but when it mattered most, the young team just could couldn’t get over the line. They only spent the last two weeks of the competition in last place but while the other two cellar-dwelling sides managed sporadic results, Adamstown struggled particularly in their ability to score goals, only attaining 20. They picked up an ANZAC Day win over Hamilton, and a victory over Charlestown and Valentine, but lost 14 of the first 16 matches to keep them anchored near the bottom. It certainly wasn’t all doom and gloom for the historic club though as multiple youngsters sparkled including creative midfielders Liam Ryan and Matt Sokoulsky as well as defender Drew Grierson. Despite collecting the unwanted tag of ‘wooden-spooners’ heading into 2020, with a little bit more experienced sprinkled amongst what is a young and exciting team, the Rosebuds will be confident they can lift back into contention.