Match of the Round
Edgeworth FC v Maitland FC
Jack McLaughlin Oval, Saturday 5pm
Michael Bridges is wary of a Maitland side that will be out to avenge their grand final defeat when Edgeworth host the Magpies in the opening round of the 2021 NPL NNSW season on Saturday.
The Eagles welcome Maitland to Jack McLaughlan Oval having overcome the suspension of football brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, a shortened season and the departure of two first grade coaches to win the premiership-championship double in 2020.
Former English Premier League striker Bridges has taken over as first grade coach at Edgeworth with a tough act to follow as the Eagles have become the dominant force in the league under Damian Zane.
Zane has since moved on to Broadmeadow Magic and taken Eagles players Keanu Moore, Jose Altayde and Noah Steinerts with him.
Will Bower (Bentleigh), Ayden Brice (Melbourne Knights), Shayne Van As (Lake Macquarie City) and Mitch Dobson (Weston) have also left the club but Bridges has added to the undoubted quality that remains in his squad.
Former Newcastle Jets striker Jeremy Brockie has joined Edgeworth to add star power up front, while Lionel Glorieux (Fraser Park), Mauro Leon-Davila (Bonnyrigg), Jackson Pereira, Matt Burton (Jets Youth) and James Scott (North Shore) have also arrived to join a solid spine including experienced quartet Pat Wheeler, captain Josh Evans, goalkeeper Josh Low and former A-League player Josh Rose.
“It doesn’t matter what level of football you’re playing at. The first game is always exciting and I’m looking forward to it,” Bridges said.
“We tried not to play local sides in pre-season and played a number of games against tougher opposition from Sydney. I think that will put is in good stead. We had a couple of wins and a couple of losses but we gained a lot of confidence.”
While the grand final may be a little more than four months ago now Bridges said the 1-0 win at No.2 Sportsground would still offer his side a mental edge.
“I think the boys that were there, our core players like Josh Low, Josh Evans, Pat Wheeler, [Dylan Holz], they know what it takes to emulate what you’ve done the season before,” Bridges said.
“I’m hoping you see those characteristics those boys have, that desire to win year on year, spread to our new players and gives them an idea of what it takes.
“It does help mentally when you’ve got that advantage. But if you go into any match with the wrong attitude you’ll get punished. It can work both ways. Maitland will want to rectify that [grand final] result and will be out to win.
Bridges said he had thrown down the challenge to his side to start as quickly as they did in 2020.
“I think at the start of any league around the world every game is tricky because no one really knows where everyone is at yet,” Bridges said.
“So many things change from the season before. Maitland and [Magpies coach Mick Bolch] will be out to get a result as well so we’ll need to be at our best.
“I’m looking forward to a good opening round and checking out the other results as well.”
Maitland meanwhile have lost goal scorers Joel Wood (Valentine) and Braedyn Crowley (Bentleigh) as well as Andrew Swan and Matt Trott to retirement.
But Magpies coach Mick Bolch has added a number of new faces including Alex Read (Valentine), Lachlan Watson, Ty Cousins (Broadmeadow Magic), Charlie Cox (Hakoah), Adam Blunden (Central Coast), Tyrell Paulson (Lake Macquarie City), Flynn Goodman (Adamstown Rosebud) and Chris Fayers (unavailability).
Lake Macquarie City v Broadmeadow Magic
Macquarie Field, Saturday 5pm
Lake Macquarie City coach Josh Rufo is not daunted by arguably the toughest assignment of the opening round with Lakes to host heavyweights Broadmeadow on Saturday.
Lakes have added plenty of experience to their squad for the 2021 campaign with Nick Cowburn (Toronto Awaba), John Majurovski (Broadmeadow Magic), Shayne Van As (Edgeworth), Brendon King (Lambton Jaffas) and Carter Smith (Maitland) all joining the club alongside veterans Josh Maguire and Peter McPherson.
Goalkeeper Stuart Plant has left for Weston but Rufo has retained most of the rest of his young 2020 squad that finished last.
Having added experience to youth, Rufo is confident Lakes can achieve big things in 2021.
“It feels like [last season] hasn’t ended to be honest [with the short break]. [But] I’m very excited to get going,” Rufo said.
“Obviously we’ve been like everyone working hard in pre-season but now is the time to get down to the business end of things.
“I think like everyone we’ve been very busy [over summer]. Recruitment is probably at the top of the list for most clubs and then the training schedules and planning games.
“I think we’re as good as could be in terms of getting players as fit as possible for round one and to understand our system, shape and the way we want to play. Overall it has been positive but pre-season is one thing. The real stuff is about to start.”
Rufo is most excited to see his experienced signings gel with his youngsters and, rather than worry about Broadmeadow, is keen for Lakes to focus on themselves in the opening round.
“We’re solely focused on ourselves, to be honest. Our only interest is on ourselves, we’re not taking any notice of any other clubs,” Rufo said.
“We just want to win. Pretty much our whole squad were playing NPL football for the first time last season. I think we learned a lot and gained so much experience. They now know the level that NPL standard is.
“Last year is last year. We’ve moved on. This year hopefully you’ll see a truer reflection of us as a team.”
The clash with Lakes will see new Broadmeadow coach Damian Zane take his first match in charge of Magic following his high-profile move from Edgeworth.
As well as his three signings from the Eagles, Zane has also attracted goalkeeper Nate Cavaliere to Magic Park from Newcastle Olympic.
Broadmeadow will look for a fast start to the campaign as they prepare to battle for the premiership under Zane.
Newcastle Olympic v Adamstown Rosebud
Darling Street Oval, Saturday 6.15pm
Newcastle Olympic welcome Adamstown Rosebud to Darling Street on Saturday night looking to get off to a strong start under former Newcastle Jets hero Joel Griffiths.
Griffiths will take charge of Olympic for the first time and could feature on the pitch alongside brother Ryan who has come out of retirement.
Though the losses of goalkeeper Nate Cavaliere to Broadmeadow and Reece Papas to Lambton will be felt, Olympic’s four signings from Adamstown in Luke Rutledge, Louis Townsend, Daniel Eisenhauer and Luke Vallone may get an immediate chance to face their former club.
Adamstown meanwhile will be looking for a fresh start of their own under new coach David Rosewarne.
The former technical director will take charge of the first team this season following Shane Cansdell-Sherriff’s departure.
The Buds have lost a number of their 2020 squad but will be determined to prove plenty of people wrong who may have already written off their chances in 2021.
Charlestown Azzurri v Valentine FC
Lisle Carr Oval, Sunday 2.30pm
Charlestown Azzurri will look to start their charge for back-to-back finals appearances when they host Valentine on Sunday.
Azzurri surprised many as they battled injury and a slow start to put in a sensational run to reach the 2020 finals before being eliminated on penalties by eventual grand finalists Maitland.
Graham Law has kept a relatively settled squad at Charlestown having added Dom Bizzarri (Broadmeadow Magic), Aaron Oppedisano (Edgeworth), Jett White (Weston) and Adamstown pair Dylan Burston and Harry Frendo.
Valentine meanwhile have lost Alex Read to Maitland but added genuine experience in Matt Thompson (Lambton) and new captain Joel Wood (Maitland).
Player-coach Adam Hughes will be keen for his side to build on their eighth-placed finish in 2020, with no better way to start than an upset win in a tough away trip.
Weston Workers FC v Lambton Jaffas
Rockwell Automation Park, Sunday 4.30pm
Weston will show how serious they are about a first finals appearance in seven years when they host Lambton in their season opener on Sunday.
The Bears have added goalkeeper Stuart Plant from Lake Macquarie City but Liam Wilson’s return from injury may be their biggest inclusion.
Leo Bertos has retained the services of veterans Robbie Turnbull and Nathan Morris who will look to help carry Weston back to finals contention.
Lambton meanwhile will look to shake off a thoroughly disappointing 2020 campaign with a strong opening against the Bears.
James Pascoe’s side looked among the strongest squads in the competition on paper last season, only for the Jaffas to run sixth.
Lambton have added former Broadmeadow captain Josh Piddington as well as Reece Papas from Newcastle Olympic and Ben Hay from Valentine to a quality squad that includes former A-League goalkeeper Ben Kennedy.
The Jaffas have lost former Newcastle Jets pair Mitch Oxborrow and Matt Thompson but will still look to challenge Edgeworth and Broadmeadow for the premiership.