Charlestown Azzurri v Maitland FC
Lisle Carr Oval – Saturday 5pm
The National Premier Leagues northern NSW finals have arrived with Charlestown Azzurri and Maitland to kick off a highly anticipated series with an elimination final at Lisle Carr Oval on Saturday.
The winner of this do-or-die clash will march onto week two while the loser will be eliminated from the competition.
The home side come into the finals off the back of some red-hot form winning six of their last seven to finish the regular season in fourth.
Azzurri have prided themselves on their defence conceding only 11 goals in 13 games, the second best record in the league.
On the other side, Maitland are now experienced campaigners when it comes to finals football having qualified for the last three seasons, making it to the grand final last year.
The Magpies finished the 2020 season in fifth and won their last three games to earn a spot in the finals while the side is fresh and well rested after the bye in round 14.
Since Maitland were promoted to the league in 2015, the Magpies have had a superior record over Azzurri with Charlestown having only won two out of their last 11 clashes. Charlestown will take confidence though from their triumph over Maitland earlier this season, winning 2-1 in round nine.
Charlestown have been one of the form sides of the competition and coach Graham Law said his side had prepared well for the finals.
“We are in good form but you’re really only as good as the next game in front of you, especially in finals football,” Law said.
“We set a small target of winning the mini-group. When the split happened we got 10 points out of a possible 12 and that put us into the semis.
“I’m very aware that we’re up against a good team and a good coach. We weren’t fussy with who we got [in the finals] and our preparation would be no different who we’re against.
“I have no doubt my boys will be switched on. The squad is in a good place. For the first time this whole season I will have my whole squad to pick from and what a time to get it ahead of a semi-final.”
Maitland coach Mick Bolch said the bye could not have come at a better time for his side after three must-win matches just to qualify for the finals.
“[Charlestown] are the form team of the comp and defend very well as a group. Our message will be to match their intensity and work rate,” Bolch said.
“Most finals games are won in the last 15 to 20 [minutes] so we need to be good at the back end of the game. We will create chances and just need to be clinical in front of goal.
“They are dangerous at set pieces, so we need to be defensively switched on as it hurt us the last time we played them.”
Broadmeadow Magic v Newcastle Olympic
Magic Park – Saturday 6.30pm
It will be the red and blue derby in the qualifying final with arch rivals Broadmeadow Magic to take on Newcastle Olympic at Magic Park on Saturday night.
The two clubs have a history of creating memorable encounters and Saturday’s qualifying final will add another chapter to the rivalry.
Broadmeadow have had a fantastic regular season finishing second with eight wins and scoring 29 goals, the second highest attacking record in the league.
Magic have had a draw and a loss in their previous two games but will be accustomed to playing in another finals series having qualified for their sixth consecutive finals appearance.
Newcastle Olympic will return to the finals after missing out for two seasons, with the side finishing third after a final round 3-0 victory over Valentine ensured their ticket into the finals.
Olympic have won four of their last five games to come into the finals in good form and will be readily preparing for another big game.
The two clubs have met on 50 occasions with Broadmeadow having the slight advantage with 21 wins to Olympics’ 20, highlighting the competitiveness of the rivalry.
Broadmeadow beat Olympic 3-1 in round three to now hold the slim advantage.
Magic coach Anthony Richards said his side looked forward to another exciting affair against Olympic.
“It is a big game, even if it was round one it would be no different. The boys are preparing really well and the Jaffas game was a perfect lead in game, they gave us a terrific hit-out to prepare us,” Richards said.
“We’ve had a terrific season. Before round one the players were told they weren’t getting paid and the coaching staff and for all those guys to hang around and get to where they are is a massive tick in their character.
“It is a different competition now and we want to win it and we’ll be doing the best we can to get there. [Olympics’] coaching staff have done a terrific job and they are very good.
“This is the first game where everyone is available in the whole squad which is perfect timing. We’re looking forward to it.”
Newcastle Olympic interim coach Alex Tagaroulias said he was ecstatic with the side’s position and looked forward to the next instalment of the derby.
“For a club like ours, it’s always important to be as successful as possible so it is quite pleasing to be back in the semis. It feels like it’s been a long time even though it’s only been a couple of seasons. It’s a massive boost for the whole place,” Tagaroulias said.
“We have a decent squad to pick from with a couple of injured players back so there is more options to pick from which a couple of weeks ago we didn’t have. We’re all feeling rather good.
“We’re going to have to improve again, the clean sheets were good, the goals we score were good but we’re going to have to improve again to overcome Broadmeadow Magic.
“It doesn’t take much to motivate players of either club when it’s Olympic against Broadmeadow, adding to that it is a semi-final. My message to them is to enjoy it and have no regrets.”
The winner of this clash will progress to the major semi-final to play premiers Edgeworth.