After six long months, National Premier Leagues (NPL) football is finally set to return in Northern NSW and it’s shaping up to be yet another exciting and unpredictable road ahead.
Coming off their triumphant performance at McDonald Jones Stadium in the NPL NNSW Grand Final against Edgeworth in 2018, Broadmeadow Magic will now be the ‘hunted’ and fresh on their heels will be their Grand Final foes who are chasing more than just trophies in 2019.
Lambton Jaffas will need to transition quickly entering the new season with their former Newcastle Jets stars no longer part of the squad and looking to pounce into their place in the finals will be Hamilton Olympic, Weston Bears and Charlestown City who have all assembled strong line-ups, while Maitland has also retained much of their great squad from last season.
Lake Macquarie City already proved themselves to be a dark horse after showing what they’re capable of in the Ampcontrol Heritage Cup, and with promising youngsters flooding their ranks, Adamstown, Jets Youth and Valentine will also like their chances of knocking up some upsets and improving their position from last year.
2018 Result: 1st (Lost Grand Final 3-0 vs Broadmeadow)
Coach: Damian Zane
Gains: Oliver Smith (Brisbane Strikers), Josh Cairelli (Jets Youth), Aden Gardner (Charlestown), Callum Bower (Weston), Daniel Fabrizio (Belconnen United – NPL ACT), Mitch Dobson (Monroe College – USA)
Losses: Jamie Byrnes (Charlestown), Lachlan Pasquale (Charlestown)
2018 was a season to be proud of for the Eagles. After having all doubts cast upon them at the beginning of the year, Edgeworth once again took out the premiership and did it by the large margin of 11 points – the biggest margin since 2011 – however, when it came to the Grand Final, they weren’t able to overcome a tremendous Broadmeadow Magic side.
Defence was once again the key strength to Edgeworth’s premiership defence, proving to be the best in the league statistically only conceding 16 goals. It’ll only improve as well as after the additions of Callum Bower from Weston and Mitch Dobson who returns to the Eagles after spending time in the US College Soccer system.
Their attack though, didn’t look to be as dangerous as some of their league rivals and after losing Jamie Byrnes and Lachlan Pasquale to Charlestown, it’s an area Zane is looking to strengthen having brought back Josh Cairelli from the Newcastle Jets Youth and Oliver Smith from Queensland’s Western Pride who Zane is anticipating big things from in 2019.
“From Oliver, I expect he’s going to score quite a few goals,” Zane said.
He’s probably a bit more experienced than some of the younger forwards in our team. He’s big and strong and I think he really fits our team.
“Daniel Fabrizio is quite the same. I think he’s going to do really well for us once he gets going. I think they’re both going to add a lot more depth for us in attack. It adds a lot of internal competition which is great for the young guys.”
A chance at creating history is also at stake for the Eagles in 2019. If they can take out the premiership this season they will not only equal the record for most consecutive State League premierships in history (a record held by Adamstown Rosebud from 1987-91), but they’ll also achieve their 13th premiership and in doing so, breaking the record for the most ever. Zane admits the pressure of history isn’t an issue for the side.
“For me, the pressure of trophies isn’t an issue because from day one I put pressure on them to perform at training,” said the Edgeworth coach.
“Keeping players hungry is the biggest thing. Each year that you start winning, it can often be hard to keep players hungry and that’s where our leaders just drive things. Josh Evans, Pat Wheeler and Dom Bizarri – those three are as hungry as anything. It’s almost greedy.
“People who have attended training have said to me that they can see in the players’ eyes that they’re hungry again, and that’s the first thing I try to get back once we start training again and it’s there this year, well and truly.
“It’s probably been the best pre-season we’ve had in my time I reckon,” he concluded.
Predicted Finish: Unlike previous years, the Eagles haven’t lost many of their stars and their large pool of young talent will have only improved and developed. Expect them to once again challenge for top spot and perhaps be the first team to progress to their fifth straight Grand Final since Weston in the seventies.
2018 Finish: 2nd (won Grand Final 3-0 vs Edgeworth)
Coach: Ruben Zadkovich
Gains: Kristian Brymora (Hässleholms IF – Sweden), Ryan Ensor (Wollongong Wolves – NPL NSW), Jarrod Baker (Lambton)
Losses: Dino Fajkovic (South Cardiff), Shane Paul (retired)
Despite only winning half their matches in the regular season, Broadmeadow Magic finished the year in incredible style, saving their best for last with a solid finals run that ended with a dominant performance against Edgeworth in the Grand Final.
In 2019 though, Ruben Zadkovich’s men will go from ‘the hunters’ to ‘the hunted’ but he thinks his side is more than ready to defend their crown.
“It’s a nice problem to face, but it’s also a difficult one,” Zadkovich said.
“I think it’s going to be different for every player in the team. Some guys have been in this position numerous time before, but obviously, younger guys will learn pretty quickly that when you’re the defending champions, people want to take you down.
“It’s certainly going to be a difficult season, but we’re happy to work our way through it and make sure we’re doing our best to stay at the top.”
After a memorable career with the club, Shane Paul finished his career on a championship-high, while Dino Fajkovic will link up with his brother, Denis, at South Cardiff.
Zadkovich has been quick to replace them however, with some welcomed additions in Ryan Ensor, who links up with the squad from Wollongong Wolves in NPL NSW, Jarrod Baker, coming from the Lambton Jaffas and Kristian Brymora, who makes his way back to Newcastle after playing in England and Sweden and will look to add to the competition’s best attacking record that Magic enjoyed last year of 44 goals.
“We have a very good group and adding Kristian to the group is just a nice piece to the puzzle,” Zadkovich said.
“He’s something different. He’s very quick, very strong, very hungry and has a great personality and attitude so he’s going to be a great addition up front and he gets to learn off some of the more experienced professionals like Virgili, Maj and Bradbery.
Just as they did last season, Broadmeadow will go into this season with a lot of experience in the squad, but Zadkovich is also very pleased with the youth coming through and how both sets of parties compliment each other.
“I think age-wise, the balance of the squad is very nice,” he said.
“We’re very big on culture making sure that the club and the team comes first and everyone buys in on that and I think that’s why we had such a good year last year.”
Predicted Finish: Those at Magic Park demand success and with the squad they have, it’s hard to see how they won’t achieve it in some way or another. Look for Broadmeadow to once again be playing in the Grand Final in 2019.
2018 Finish: 3rd (lost in Semi Finals vs Broadmeadow)
Coach: Michael Bolch
Gains: Joel Wood (Valentine), Tom Davies (Hamilton)
Losses: Adam Duggan (Lake Macquarie), Josh Dutton-Black (returned to England), Josh Williams (Adamstown), Chris Fayers (playing in Spain), Matt Comerford (injury)
The Magpies from Maitland enjoyed a tremendous run at the end of the regular season to storm their way into the semi-finals but fell short against a tough, championship-winning Broadmeadow team.
After making quite a number of changes to the side at the beginning of 2018, coach Michael Bolche has this year instead decided to focus on keeping his team together and to promote from within.
His squad will once again be one of the stronger ones especially due to a couple of new key signings and the great depth they have with multiple players from their premiership-winning 20 Years side being promoted.
“There’s not a great deal we’ve changed last year, but I don’t think we really have had to,” Bolch said.
“I think there’s been a fair bit of change at Maitland in the last couple of years, and we had a good squad last year after only finishing one game off the Grand Final, we felt we didn’t need to change too much this year.”
Last season Maitland had one of the better-attacking records in the league until star forward Matt Comerford, who had scored 8 in 12 matches, suffered an untimely injury and unfortunately, it’ll keep him out of the upcoming season. However, incoming from Valentine is veteran striker Joel Wood who, combined with the scoring prowess of Ryan Clarke and Sean Pratt, may see the Magpies rise offensively.
“After losing Commo [Comerford], we’ve just tinkered with our shape, but Joel Wood will be our target man up front which we didn’t really have last year, while Tom Davies, who’s a great young kid will add a lot to our backline,” he said.
“We probably had a pretty low conversion rate from the amount of chances we created last year, so hopefully we can fix that this year and we can get a few more players on the scoresheet rather than just relying on a few guys.
Having helped the club return to the top four following a year without finals football, Bolch believes that the side he’s assembled this season is an upgrade from 2018.
“There’s competition for spots all over the park,” he said.
“I think the internal drive and competition that the squad has got amongst themselves is going to make us a lot better a team than that of last year.”
Predicted Finish: Having retained most of their squad from last year, it’s hard not to see Maitland challenging the top four, and potentially even further, in 2019.
2018 Finish: 4th (lost in Semi Finals vs Edgeworth
Coach: James Pascoe
Gains: Will McFarlane (Western Pride – NPL QLD), Brock Messenger, James Pendrigh (Canterbury Dragons – New Zealand), Andrew Pawiak (Hume City – NPL VIC), Isaac Sefo (Jets Youth), Josh Sutton (Belswans)
Losses: Jobe Wheelhouse, Ryan Griffiths, Joel Griffiths, Marcus Duncan (Hamilton), Ben Hay (Valentine), Ridge Mapu (injury)
2018 ended in the most agonising of ways for Lambton after going down by the skin of their teeth in extra time of the Semi Finals against Edgeworth in what can only be described as an NPL NNSW all-time classic.
They’ll enter this season with a vastly different side though with a whole host of changes coming for the Jaffas and James Pascoe’s team. All three of their former Newcastle Jets stars, Jobe Wheelhouse and Griffiths brothers, Joel and Ryan, have called it a day on their playing time due to injuries and work, and they’ve also lost NPL NNSW Team of the Year defender Marcus Duncan, and mainstay midfielder Ben Hay, creating more than a few headaches for Pascoe.
“It’s one of those things, sometimes you plan for the changes to happen, and other times they get forced on you and for us, and I guess this year it falls into the latter category for us,” Pascoe said.
“We were kind of hoping that Jobe and the Griffiths boys would have another year in them, and you certainly couldn’t have predicted his injury while Benny Hay probably moved on for reasons other than football and likewise with Marcus as he has a bit of history with them.
“All of that is all good, but it certainly wasn’t planned.”
He hasn’t wasted any time in attempting to replace those key losses though, after bringing in multiple players, from both local and afar, including two who will join the side from New Zealand in round four or five, Brock Messenger and James Pendrigh. Western Pride man Will McFarlane will travel down to play at Arthur Edden while Andrew Pawiak returns home after spending time overseas and in the NPL Victoria.
Pascoe said that despite losing a lot of his stars, he’s pleased with how his squad has shaped up for the year.
“Other than the New Zealand boys, the team will have spent several months together and based on what I’ve seen, I couldn’t be happier how well the boys have gelled together both on and off the field,” he said.
“From the boys who started in the semi-final game against Edgeworth, we still have 8 and of those 11, so it’s not like we’ve lost most of our starting team.”
“Guys like Brad Swancott, Michael Sessions and Bren Hammel are natural leaders in the squad and we’ve always got guys who are edging towards those roles as they mature in Michael Kantarovski and Luke Remington, so I think we’re still in a decent space in regards to experience to lead the young and new boys we’ve got,” Pascoe said.
“In the past two years we’ve finished 3rd and 4th so I’d say somewhere around there is where we want to achieve again. Anything more than that will be treated as a bit of a bonus, and anything less we’ll probably be a bit disappointed in.
Predicted Finish: It’s a year of change for the Jaffas. The departures of multiple stars mean there’s some large shoes to fill however the players they’ve retained and the new ones coming in certainly have what it takes. Look for them to once again be battling in and around the edge of the top four.
2018 Finish: 5th
Coach: Pete McGuiness
Gains: Marcus Duncan (Lambton), Reece Petit (Valentine), Beau McDonald (Kotara South), Ren Fukumoto (Nagasaki University FC, Japan), Shinichi Kawachi (Tokoyama University FC, Japan), Jez Murray (Football Mid North Coast), Musa Kamara (APIA Leichardt, NPL NSW)
Losses: Jacob Bailey (Valentine), Leo Bertos (retired), Simon Mooney (moved for work), Tom Davies (Maitland), Stuart Musialik (injured), Blake Green, Joseph Temperley
It was a case of so close, yet so far for Hamilton last year as they fell just short of qualifying for the finals on the final match-day of the regular season.
The Olympic boys ended 2018 with a terrific run of form but it was their early-season slump that ultimately cost them, and it’ll be a focus of coach Pete McGuiness’ to make sure that his side get off to a flying start instead this time around.
“If the season had started after about Round 7, we would have been in the top two,” McGuiness said.
“At the end of the day, we finished one point off fourth and two points off second. We had a lot of momentum and continuity and most of the side that were playing then are still there so I’m hoping we can keep that going on.
“We want to be in the four and we want to be challenging right from the word go.
There’s a long list of new recruits coming to Darling St. Oval which include two Japanese imports, Ren Fukumoto and Shinichi Kawachi. Despite having the second-best attacking record in the competition, their defence floundered compared to the rest of the top sides and solid, promising defenders Marcus Duncan and Reece Petit have been brought in to help amend that trend.
“We were way too high in the tally for goals conceded and that’s why we found ourselves in games having to score three or four to win games,” McGuiness said.
“Both Reece and Marcus are young players, but they’ve both been around this level for a long time.
“They’ll definitely add strength and depth to our backline. We know we can score goals and we know we will, so while ever we keep that clean sheet in tack, we’ll be in games.”
Not returning to Hamilton in 2019 though will be Kiwi International Leo Bertos who’s officially called ‘time’ on his playing career and focusing on coaching, while Simon Mooney and Stuart Musialik are stepping away from the game. Jacob Bailey has also departed to join Valentine while defender Tom Davies has left to join Maitland, however, McGuiness believes he has enough young players coming through to replace them.
“I think in terms of potential, the best player in the league is Jarryd Sutherland,” admitted McGuiness.
“He is a very gifted, special player and if he can reach his potential he won’t be in this league for long so hopefully he can accustom himself to this level.
“Rhys Cooper is also another name people should watch out for this year.”
Predicted Finish: Given the talent of their new additions, combined with their already strong squad, returning to the finals will be the benchmark for Olympic this season.
Charlestown City Blues
2018 Finish: 6th
Coach: David Tanchevski
Gains: Jamie Byrnes (Edgeworth), Lachlan Pasquale (Edgeworth), Max Spectre (Terrigal United), Nathan Archibold (Brisbane Strikers, NPL QLD)
Losses: Ljubo Milicevic (retired, mid-2018), Daniel Minors (Lake Macquarie), Aden Gardner (Edgeworth), Danny Ireland (injury)
After a blistering start to 2018 that saw Charlestown enjoy a top of the table run for the first quarter of the season, they weren’t able to continue their form and fell short of a semi-finals return.
Injury-plagued the Blues last season, particularly for star striker Kane Goodchild who was still able to score seven goals despite only playing 10 games. Coach David Tanchevski will be praying that his key man can return to the form that saw him win the 2016 Player of the Year award and three Golden Boots, and can partner with fellow forwards Scott Smith, Rene Ferguson and new recruit Jamie Byrnes to form a lethal combination.
“Not having Goody for 75% of the season last year definitely hurt our chances of ranking a bit higher,” said Tanchevski.
“Last year, I think we probably lacked a more free-flowing goal-scoring. We were very good defensively, but hopefully now with Goody back and Jamie Byrnes added to that front line, along with Scott Smith, there should be a few more goals available to us.”
Further back down the field has taken a blow though, after losing midfielders Daniel Minors and Aden Gardner to rival clubs as well as goalkeeper Danny Ireland and Ljubo Milicevic to injury. However, Tanchevski believes that his 2019 team is superior than that of its predecessor.
“I think the squad is in a stronger position than it was last year,” Tanchevski said.
“Last year we had a lot of key injuries so this year, we’ve pretty much replaced all the guys we’ve lost, but we also have the benefit of all these blokes coming back from injury.
“I think we have a lot more depth in the squad this year and I think that’s what hurt us last season.”
This season, Charlestown will boast one of the more experienced sides in the competition, but as Tanchevski said, also have a lot of promising youth coming through the ranks.
“I think you need experience, and the mental toughness that comes with it, to be able to match it with the best teams in this competition,” he said.
“We’ve also got a lot of young boys around that experience as well though and I think we have a good mix which creates a good rotation.
“There’s a lot of guys in our 20s that are really looking good and should get some runs in first grade. Guys like Tyrell Paulson, Hayden Seaton, Ethan Byrnes as well as Daniel Hughes, it’s very exciting seeing guys like that coming through.”
Predicted Finish: If their deadly strike-force can find the form pundits know they’re capable of, then a top-four finish will be no problem. If not though, it may be a season much like 2018.
Newcastle Jets Youth
2018 Finish: 7th
Coach: Labinot Haliti
Gains: Matthew Barkho (APIA Leichhardt – NPL NSW)
Losses: Josh Cairelli (Edgeworth), Isaac Sefo (Lambton), Kaleb Cox (Weston), Ethan Byrnes (Charlestown), Cai Tipaldo (returned to QLD)
As it often is the case for the Jets Youth side, consistency was their main issue last year. They were able to pull off some upsets but also got trounced in some matches with 45 conceded goals next to their name.
Defence will need to be a main priority for former Newcastle Jet and Western Sydney Wanderer Labinot Haliti who’s taking over the helm without the help of Lawrie McKinna.
Haliti has said though, that despite that statistic, they’re not placing too much emphasis on the back-line.
“We’re looking to improve to in all parts of the field when defending, not just the back-line,” Haliti said.
“It’s important that as a team we defend together, and we attack together.”
While his focus will be firmly on developing his young players and growing them into potential future Hyundai A-League stars, he’ll also be hoping his side can finish a bit higher than last season and more recently, better than that of their National FOXTEL Y-League placing where they finished in fourth in their conference with three wins to their name.
The side has lost a few players to other NPL NNSW clubs and the team has looked to replace those names with players from the younger grades, as well as Matthew Barkho from the NPL NSW.
Haliti was confident that although his side will be extremely young this year, the team a establishing a competitive edge.
“The core of the team from last year is still there,” he said.
“Everything is looking good. We have a very young squad and have signed five boys from the Under 18’s so there’s a good repour between us and the academy which is important.
“Yes we focus on developing but how can you develop if you are not being competitive?”
“Everything we do we are trying to be competitive, even in training.
“We have made it clear that regardless of age, if you are doing well, you will be rewarded.
Many youngsters will be looking to build on a strong season last year such as captain Kieran Hayes, Yerasimakis Petratos and Kent Harrison as well as Noah James and Jack Simmons who spent their NPL off-season with the senior Jets squad, the latter even being selected for the Australian Joeys to play in Turkey.
Predicted Finish: It’s always unknown what the young Jets will bring to the table each year and this season seems no different. There’s no doubt there’s many talented and promising young players in the side, however with their main aim being that of development rather than getting results, they probably won’t push the top four teams.
Lake Macquarie City Roosters
2018 Finish: 8th
Coach: Nick Webb
Gains: Daniel Minors (Charlestown), Sam Webb (Broadmeadow), Charlie Cox (Broadmeadow), Adam Duggan (Maitland), Wade Southall (Broadmeadow), Jayden Barber (Broadmeadow)
Losses: Tom Sparre (moved for work), Paul Sichalwe (travelling)
Although they finished closer to the bottom of the table than the top in 2018, Lakes showed their mettle against many of the top sides and only lost one match by more than 2 goals over the course of the year.
Their captain and star forward Sam Walker was their shining jewel, winning the 2018 Graham Jennings Medal for Player of the Year, however the squad also possesses many promising young players who performed well such as Campbell Ross, Cameron Holzheimer and Mitch Hunter and coach Nick Webb will be hoping they can develop into leaders and share some of the load.
“We feel like we’re in a pretty good spot,” Webb said.
“Sammy [Walker] did super well last year winning the individual awards that he did, but at the end of the day, individual awards come off the back of the team.
“We’re looking across the board for people to step up and to be a lot more clinical in that final third. I’m looking at Mitch Hunter, who scored 7 goals in the Heritage Cup to step up as a strong number 9 this year.
“We’ve also got Cameron Holzheimer returning from that traumatic head injury, and to be honest, but he’s probably our biggest key player this year, especially if he can live up to any potential that he’s showing. He can probably get us into the top four this year.”
Although they’ve lost key players in Tom Sparre and Paul Sichalwe, the Roosters have been able to attract multiple quality youngsters from other clubs as replacements that will also add further depth to the squad.
In 2018, the Roosters conceded the more goals at home than any other team, and Webb said it’s a major focus heading into the new season.
“Last year we put ourselves under pressure because we kept conceding and we couldn’t put teams away,” Webb said.
“We had a lot of 4-3 kind-of games, which sounds exciting, but it just means that were not defending as a whole unit and as a team, so we’ve worked pretty hard on that.
“If we can half our goals conceded, I think we’re in with a real good chance of being semi-finalists.”
Predicted Finish: Although their squad is fairly young, expect Lakes to once again be a tough challenge for opposing teams this year. Last year their execution and ability to win close matches was disappointing, but if they can turn that around, they may just surprise a few and sneak a spot in 2019 top four.
2018 Finish: 9th
Coach: Kew Jaliens
Gains: Robbie Turnbull (Adamstown), Scott Carter (Valentine), Zac Sneddon (Valentine), Kaleb Cox (Jets Youth), Liam Wilson (Central Coast Mariners Youth), Sam Kamper & Jack Kamper (Dandenong, NPL Victoria)
Losses: Kane Runge (Dandenong, NPL Victoria), Kew Jaliens (coaching), Brock Oakley (Valentine), Callum Bower (Edgeworth), Josh Maguire (Dudley-Redhead), Jake Barner (Singleton), Liam O’Reilly (injured), Sam Ford (South Cardiff), Regan Payne, Tega Marcus
In the only coaching change across the league, former Newcastle Jet and Dutch international Kew Jaliens will take the reins from Steve Piggott and many of the Weston faithful will be optimistic that he can turn their recent woes around.
A big list of new recruits has also lead to encouraging signs with some old faces returning to a side that showed glimpses of some top football last season. Zac Sneddon and Robbie Turnbull both return to the club while Kaleb Cox joins from the Newcastle Jets Academy. Jaliens has also signed a fellow Dutchman in Jason Tjien-Fooh, as well as creative midfielder Liam Wilson who spent time with the Central Coast Mariners, in the attempt to improve their attack.
With the sweeping changes made across the board at the club, Jaliens also admitted his side would be also be playing a vastly different kind of football to the one they played last year and that consistency was going to be a major focus.
“We’re looking really good and come a long way,” Jaliens said.
“We have a whole lot of new boys and a new coach so we’ll definitely be playing a different way of play.
“First thing that’s important is consistency for that you need a good structure and a good formation and that equal attractive, combination play going forward.”
A former Goalkeeper of the Year is also heading over to the club in Scott Carter after Kane Runge moved to Victoria to play with Dandenong Thunder and although Jaliens won’t be lacing up the boots this year, he is already having a major impact on the team according to assistant coach Craig Stoker.
“Kew’s changed the whole style of play, not only the style of play but also the discipline of the squad,” said Stoker.
“There’s times at training as well when things aren’t going smooth at training, he’ll step in and help out and that gives the boys a real lift.
“He has a great manner about him. You often see coaches go off all the time, but Kew is not like that. He only speaks in a different tone when he has to and he gets the best effect out of it.”
Stoker also highlighted his thoughts on how effective older heads Nathan Morris and Robbie Turnbull are being for the young players in the squad.
“I think there’s a good mix of experience and youth,” Stoker said.
“The older players keep the young boys in check. We’ve got players like Regan Lundy and Jackson Burston, who have a bunch of potential, and guys like Robbie and Moz [Morris] who are working with them.
“It’s a very positive place to be around at the moment.”
“We’re trying to bring in a lot more professionalism and a lot more bonding between the boys.
Predicted Finish: This Bears side look a much more improved team than that of recent years and they’ll be confident that they can challenge the top half of the table and potentially find their way back into the finals.
2018 Finish: 10th
Coach: Shane Cansdell-Sherriff
Gains: Tallan Martin (Thornton), Drew Grierson (Hamilton), Manoli Pappas (Lakes), Josh Williams (Maitland), Daniel Eisenhauer (Hamilton)
Losses: Robbie Turnbull (Weston)
Unfortunately for the Rosebud’s, 2018 was a season that never really got off the ground and although they picked up some big results against some of the top sides, they finished in second last – one position lower than the year before.
However, with a squad full of young talent, coach Shane Cansdell-Sherriff will be hoping that after a year of first-grade football under their belts, his promising stars can turn it up a notch and begin to find better consistency.
“We had a lot of young boys spend time a lot of time playing last season, like Alex Graham and Oly Davies, so they know what it takes and this year we’re hoping they can kick on,” Cansdell-Sherriff said.
“The environment of the club is fantastic.
“Everyone involved in the club are grounded individuals and the boys are enjoying coming to training and we’re getting full squads every session which is great.”
The club hasn’t made too many adjustments to their squad for 2019, only losing Robbie Turnbull to Weston while picking up a few youngsters from other clubs’ 20s, and also a veteran in Tallan Martin from Thornton.
After finishing the year with the worst defensive record in the competition, the Rosebuds will need to tighten up their defence if they want any chance of playing finals football.
“We’ve addressed those things [defensively]. It’s been about how to work together rather than individually,” he said.
“Already this year I’ve seen signs of very good defending from the boys so we’re definitely moving forward.”
Predicted Finish: There’s a bright future building once again at Adamstown with so many up-and-coming players. Whether those players can successfully cross the divide between ‘promising player’ to ‘solid first-grader’ though, will be the difference between playing finals and missing out for another year.
2018 Finish: 11th (Last)
Coach: Darren Sills & Sam Griffin
Gains: Ben Hay (Valentine), Joel Magnee (Wallsend), Brock Oakley (Weston), Jacob Bailey (Hamilton), Brenton Olzomer, Jordan Harrison
Losses: Reece Petit (Hamilton), Zac Sneddon (Weston), Joel Wood (Maitland), Scott Carter (Weston), Wilson Edwards (not playing), Mele Temguia (returned to Canada), Aaron Niyonkuru (playing in Spain)
After experiencing a solid run in 2017, last year turned into a nightmare for Valentine after picking up the wooden spoon with only two wins next to their name, both of which came against Weston. The last time they won a league match that wasn’t against Weston was all the way back in early July 2017, and it seems like they’ll be facing an uphill battle once again this year.
A plethora of names have left the Lake Macquarie club especially at the back as central defender and captain Reece Petit, fellow centre-back Zac Sneddon and goalkeeper Scott Carter will all play elsewhere as too will veteran striker Joel Wood and a few youngsters as well.
Coaches Darren Sills and Sam Griffin, who have both been officially named as the league’s only ‘co-coaches’, have been able to bring in much-needed major additions though in Jacob Bailey from Hamilton Olympic, and Brock Oakley from Weston, as well as ex-Lambton star Ben Hay and a returning Brenton Olzomer who are both already being looked to as leaders amongst the squad.
Coach Griffin said that despite losing a tonne of experience, he believes they have the players to be able to successfully organise and motivate the team.
“Obviously losing the experience and quality of the lads we had will hurt, but I think we’ve done a super job in bringing in guys who are of equal quality,” said Griffin.
“The captain this year will be Chris Brown who is our longest serving player and a terrific leader.
“Brenton coming back will also play a part as he’s just a natural leader, and also Ben Hay. From where Ben’s been and what he’s done, he’s a winner. He understands the game very well and he’s very good as positioning other players around him to succeed.”
“We’re expecting better things than last year.”
Attacking-wise, Phoenix struggled to consistently amount pressure on their opposition having only a dire 19 goals scored and only eight of those came when they were at home. Their firepower in front of goal is an area that they’ve identified that needs improving but Griffin is confident it will.
“We’ll be mainly looking toward Brenton [Olzomer],” Griffin admitted.
“He was our leading goal-scorer the first year Sillsy and I were at the club and he’s been there long enough and done it before.
“He’s not a like-for-like replacement for Woodsy, but they’re both experienced strikers. If he can get into double figures, I think we have boys who will be able to support him and chip in with some goals.
Predicted Finish: Being the reigning wooden-spooners means the only way is up for the Phoenix. What works against them is that they’ve lost quite a lot of their experienced stars and just don’t look like they’ve made the necessary improvements that other clubs have. 2019 may serve as more of a building and transitional year for the ‘boys from the coast’.