By Ben Homer
After a long off-season the PlayStation®4 National Premier Leagues (NPL) Northern NSW finally makes it return, and what’s better is that it will start a month earlier this season!
With Lake Macquarie joining the ranks this season to make it an 11-team competition, it means each team will play two more matches than last year and overall, we will have 22 Rounds in the PS4 NPL.
It shapes up as an exciting year with every side looking stronger on paper than they did this time last year.
Edgeworth will look to do the ‘triple-double,’ winning the Minor and Major Premiership in consecutive years. The only side to do that in recorded Northern NSW history is Weston from 1971-73 – and maybe you could count it as a ‘triple-triple’ if they can qualify for the Westfield FFA Cup Round of 32 for the third year straight.
But, they won’t get it all their own way with Lambton looking very strong this season, and with James Pascoe at the helm, expect the Jaffas to be right up there again this year. Hamilton and Magic will be there and Adamstown should improve on last year.
Maitland has recruited well this year, as have Charlestown, and Valentine look set to punch above their weight again in 2017. The Jets Youth will be solid, and while they will struggle in the title race, expect both a youthful Weston side and a Lake Macquarie side packed with NPL experience to cause some upsets this year.
Don’t forget you can catch Chris Turner, Damien Smith and myself every week at the Match of the Round on BarTV. Cooks Hill coach Graham Law will also be joining the commentary team in 2017.
Looking forward to what should be a cracking year!
Last Year: 1st (Minor and Major Premiers)
Last Premiership: 2016
Coach: Damian Zane
Gains: Kieran Sanders (Far North Queensland Heat), Nate Cavaliere (Lambton), Adam Cawley (Jets Youth)
Losses: Keanu Moore (Bentleigh Greens), Daniel Minors (Valentine)
Expect another big year from Edgeworth with very little squad turnover from last season. While the Eagles have dominated the last two seasons – winning the Minor and Major Premiership in both – they still have not surpassed the record of the great Edgeworth side of the 1990s who won the Minor Premiership three years straight from 1998-2000. That’s one stat that could be in the firing line.
They will also look to become the first side since the dominant Weston outfit of 1971-1973 to win the Minor and Major Premierships in three consecutive years.
The loss of Keanu Moore will be a big blow for the Eagles, but new signing Kieran Sanders looks to be a more than able replacement. Sanders came off the bench in the Eagles trial against Liaoning and was impressive, creating plenty of chances and linked well with experienced striker Daniel McBreen.
He scored six goals for Far North Queensland Heat in the Queensland PS4 NPL last season and expect more goals from him this year. Former Jets Youth product Adam Cawley will add some speed to the Eagles backline as well.
What coach Damian Zane Says:
“I think if we can stay with the top sides early, I think we’ll finish stronger. We had a break before Christmas because they really needed it, but, the way they have all come back is a credit to them. A lot of the players look in better positions than they were last season.”
“The fact that a lot of our young guys train with us and know what is expected, [it creates] some really good competition in the club. The players know if they’re not hungry and they don’t want to reach the levels that we have, they are going to get passed by.”
Last Year: 3rd (Lost Grand Final)
Last Premiership: 2013
Coach: Ruben Zadkovich
Gains: Niko Giantsopolous (Devonport Strikers), Takumi Sunada (Japan), Dino Fajkovic (Overseas), Scott Robinson (Perth Glory Youth)
Losses: Nick Hartnett (Kahibah), Dan Casciaroli (Charlestown), Michael Kantarovski (Lambton)
While they haven’t recruited in big numbers in 2017, those who have arrived at Magic Park look to be huge signings for Broadmeadow as they look to break their Premiership drought.
While three seasons doesn’t seem too much like a drought, for Magic it definitely is. Since, their first Grand Final win back in 2004, the longest Broadmeadow has had to wait for success is only three years. By this season’s end it will be four years since they last took home the title.
Is Ruben Zadkovich, the man to turn the tide back in Broadmeadow’s favour? The signs looked good against Liaoning Whowin in a pre-season trial where a second-half, backs to the wall effort, saw Magic take home a 2-1 win.
It was the kind of determination and never say never attitude that Zadkovich showed every time he entered the pitch. If that continues to rub off, expect Magic to give the title a real shake. Round One against Edgeworth shapes up as a huge clash in the context of the season.
What coach Ruben Zadkovich says:
“I’m a young coach and I’m still learning my trade definitely. It’s not an easy job to take the First-grade team as my first main role. The only other coaching job I’ve had before was at the Perth Glory Youth team and there is a big difference to be an Assistant there and being the First team coach here.”
“I’ve inherited a good squad and it’s not about whether they can do it, it’s just about whether I can get the best out of them and get them all to click and pull in the same direction. A lot of the guys are proven players in this league, scored a lot of goals and won trophies. They are a great bunch of guys and a great bunch of players. It’s just a matter of getting the best out of them.”
Last Year: 2nd (Lost Semi-Final)
Last Premiership: 2009
Coach: Mick Bolch
Gains: Marcus Duncan (Northcote City), Pete McPherson (Lambton), Scott Smith (Charlestown)
Losses: Simon Mooney (travelling), Jacob Bailey (injury), Matt Minors (Valentine), Josh Small (Charlestown)
Hamilton will be hungrier than ever in 2017 after a season which didn’t go quite to script. They were the first side in recorded Northern NSW top grade history to go through the season undefeated and still not win the Minor Premiership and that is sure to hurt.
The return of Marcus Duncan will add some more defensive steel to an Olympic defence which was almost impregnable in 2016, while Pete McPherson and Scott Smith bring creativity and goal-scoring prowess in spades.
The loss of midfield-tyro Jacob Bailey is a hammer blow for Olympic. His ‘off the ball work’ is second to none and an equal replacement will be tough to find. The departure of Simon Mooney will also hurt. He was Hamilton’s second leading goal scorers behind golden boot Kane Goodchild last year.
They have plenty of quality but whether an ageing roster could count against them remains to be seen. Round One against the Jaffas will provide a great barometer of when Olympic are at. However, regardless of the result there, expect them to be in the mix come finals time.
What coach Mick Bolch Says:
“It was obviously going tough going through undefeated last year and winning nothing. There is definitely a fire in the belly of boys to not finish second this season. There has been plenty of talk about town about how we went undefeated and didn’t win anything so I don’t think they need much motivation at all.”
“I think we’ve recruited well and we’ve got a stronger squad than last year so our aim is to win the minor premiership. I think the top few sides have improved from last year. I think the Jaffas are going to be the dark horse. They’ve picked up some really good quality on the recruitment front and we’ve got them round one.”
Last Year: 7th
Last Premiership: 2014
Coach: James Pascoe
Gains: Ridge Marpu (Valentine), Michael Kantarovski (Broadmeadow), Joel Griffiths (unattached), Tom Waller, Dain Greentree (Jets Youth), Nathan Verity, Liam O’Dell (Central Coast Mariners Academy), Nathan Morris (Weston), Daniel March (Toronto-Awaba)
Losses: Nate Cavaliere (Edgeworth), Jamie Byrnes (Weston), Pete McPherson (Hamilton), Alex Johnson-Young (retired), Alex Palozzi (Newcastle Suns), Joel Wood (Sydney for Work), Kevin Davidson (year off), Luke Willard, Matt Browne (Valentine), John Majurovski (unattached)
After a season which spluttered from the get-go and never quite recovered, James Pascoe looks to have acquired a squad of his liking in 2017.
While they produced an impressive performance to knock Hamilton out of the Westfield FFA Cup, those performances were few are far between last year and Pascoe will look to make them more frequent this season.
Michael Kantarovski will provide creativity in midfield for Lambton and should link nicely with Jobe Wheelhouse as a like for like replacement for Pete McPherson who has moved to Hamilton.
The speed of Ridge Marpu who arrives from Valentine, combined with Luke Remington on the flanks will cause headaches for many sides as will the recruitment of former Jets striker Joel Griffiths if he stays injury free.
With a quality squad at James Pascoe’s disposal, Lambton will be pushing for a finals spot this year and it would be a huge disappointment for the club if they don’t feature come to the end of August. They have flown under the radar during the pre-season, so don’t be surprised if they are pushing for the minor premiership at the end of the season.
What coach James Pascoe Says:
“No one was happy with last year, we didn’t have a whole lot of luck with injuries and other bits and pieces. What I found very quickly last year, was that the boys weren’t as fit as they needed to be to start the season. I think it was probably on the back end of three years of success, just a little bit of staleness had crept into the group and a lack of desire to push themselves.”
“We have had a terrific pre-season, with the six-week block pre-season and we came back in the week of the new year and we’ve had seven weeks back. We are very fit, everyone fully understands their tactical roles, and we’ve set ourselves up for a much better year than last year.”
Last Year: 9th
Last Premiership: 1991
Coach: Peter McGuinness
Gains: Justin Tannock (unattached), Robbie Turnbull (Weston), Cameron Holzheimer Ryan Ensor, Charlie Horsley, Aaron Niyonkuru (Jets Youth), Riley Hill (Edgeworth), Judd Duncan (Sutherland Sharks), Zaell Ford (Emerging Jets)
Losses: Daniel Clements, Joey Grujevski (Unattached), Scott Carter (Valentine), Thom Lino (injured), Josh West (Lake Macquarie), Jake Hamilton, Alex Gillespie, Tom Liolio, Daniel Johnson, Hakan Canli, Calum Gallagher (Cooks Hill)
You couldn’t write a script for a more unfortunate season than the one Adamstown experienced in 2016. The only positive was that Weston had an even worse season and the most successful club in Northern NSW history was spared the embarrassment of finishing bottom of the pile.
The experienced Peter McGuinness has replaced Graham Law at the helm and it will be intriguing to see just how much the Rosebuds will improve on last season. With plenty of youth coming in the form of some former Jets Youth players, the Rosebud’s won’t lack energy and should be strong in the back end of matches.
Justin Tannock up front adds experience and a goal-scoring prowess. He scored four times for Edgeworth the last time he played in the PS4 NPL back in 2015 and should play a big role for the Rosebud’s this year.
Adamstown will not be far from a finals berth in 2017, but with just four of the 11 sides in the competition making the finals, it’s going to be tough ask for them. A place in the top four would be an outstanding achievement for Peter McGuinness’ side.
What coach Peter McGuinness Says:
“We can measure success in a number of ways. What we should be looking for at Adamstown this year is to climb the ladder and improve the style of football that we play. How consistent we can play will determine where we finish on the table. So far, so good. There is definitely a good approach to training, they are working very hard.”
“To make the [top] four out of eleven teams, will be difficult. We have some big clubs and some very experienced squads in the league this year. I expect those clubs to be very consistent from the word go. But, you’ve got to aim for the four, because if you never aim for it, you’ll never reach it.”
Charlestown City Blues
Last Year: 6th
Last Premiership: 2002
Coach: Shane Pryce
Gains: Josh Swadling, Corey Atkinson (Valentine), Dan Casciaroli (Broadmeadow), Josh Small (Hamilton), Mitchell Harper (Central Coast), Jared Ross (Marconi)
Losses: Scott Smith (Hamilton), Ben Hughes (retired)
Charlestown defied plenty of predictions in 2016 to finish in 6th place, equal on points with the 5th placed Jets and five points outside the top four. While the five-point gap seemed like a decent margin, their round three clash with Maitland seemed to be the difference.
Leading 1-0 away at Cooks Square Park in stoppage time, Charlestown gave away a free kick just outside the box and Maitland veteran Matt Thompson made them pay. That result would have kept the Blues in the finals hunt until late on in the season and it’s fine margins like that which will determine their fortunes in 2017.
Charlestown look stronger approaching the 2017 season with attacking duo Josh Swadling and Corey Atkinson signing from Valentine. They will more than makeup for the loss of Scott Smith up front, while Dan Casciaroli’s move to Charlestown will be a huge boost after the loss of the experience Ben Hughes.
Charlestown don’t have the same depth as the bigger clubs, so a mid-table finish seems likely. A finish in the top four would be an outstanding achievement.
What coach Shane Pryce says:
“In my eyes, we are stronger in depth and in quality and we are hoping to sneak into a semi-final spot and upset some of the bigger teams. I guess last year we struggled against the powerhouses. The results show that and this year we are strengthened and we want to be a team that fights for every point.”
“Watching the trial matches, and seeing the results of some the local sides are getting against higher quality oppositions is impressive. I think every club has put in an extensive pre-season, everyone has been training more. If you don’t keep up with the Edgies, Olympics, Lambton’s and Magic’s, you are going to be down the bottom. We are striving to reach those heights.”
Lake Macquarie Roosters
Last Year: 1st in NewFM First Division (Lost Semi-Final)
Last Premiership: 2006
Coach: Anthony Richards
Gains: Benn Kelly, Trent Partridge (Weston), Justin Broadley (Maitland), Matthew Toohey, Josh Symonns (Central Coast), Tom Smart (year-off), Josh West (Adamstown), Tom Sparre (Cooks Hill), Tynan Windgrove (Hamilton)
Losses: Daniel Walker (retired), Matt Grey (Kahibah), Cameron Le Gay Brereton (unattached)
The Roosters have recruited well with some quality signings mixed with some fringe PS4 NPL players from 2016. Their key man is striker Sam Walker who could easily have appeared in the NPL in their two-year absence but loyalty kept him at Lakes. Walker was the NPL’s second leading scorer last time he played back in 2014, scoring 12 times for the Roosters so expect him to play a big role for them again in 2017.
The recruitment of Benn Kelly in goals is a huge signing for the Roosters as is the acquisition of experienced defender Tom Smart from had a year off last season but played in 2015 at the Lambton Jaffas.
In comparison to the other sides in the competition, Lake Macquarie doesn’t have the same depth or quality across the park and will likely be in a battle to avoid the wooden spoon.
Without the threat of relegation for the next three seasons, Lakes have the opportunity to give their youth a chance and to build their club on and off the pitch so they are on solid foundations when the NPL licences come under consideration again at the end of 2019.
What coach Anthony Richards Says:
“I think it’s going to be a difficult year for us. I think we’ve got a good mix of experience and young guys, though. It’s not going to be easy for us and it will take a little bit of time to get up to the physicality of the NPL compared to the NewFM Division. Our goal is to improve as the competition goes along.”
“Benn [Kelly] brings 32 years of experience as a goalkeeper, and he would be one of the top two goalkeepers in the competition. Obviously, Danny Ireland and himself would be the two of them. He’s a massive signing for us.”
Last Year: 8th
Last Premiership: N/A
Coach: Darren Sills
Gains: Daniel Minors (Edgeworth), Scott Carter (Adamstown), Zac Sneddon (Weston), Josh Carroll (Lambton), Jalon Brown, Alec Faulkner (USA)
Losses: Alex Burrell, Beyhan Irmako (Central Coast), Paul McGinley, Darren Cooper (Berkley Vale), Corey Atkinson, Josh Swadling (Charlestown), Brenton Olzomer (retired), Ridge Marpu (Lambton)
The Phoenix punched above their weight in 2016 and expect Darren Sills to instil the same desire and determination as he did last year.
Dan Minors is a huge signing from Edgeworth after he played a crucial role in their incredible season, while Scott Carter, provided he stays injury and suspension free, will be critical in ensuring Valentine has a watertight defence.
The combined losses of centre-back Alex Burrell and experienced midfielder Darren Cooper are a blow for the Phoenix. The major question mark over the Phoenix is their attack with the departure of their two leading goal scorers from last season in Brenton Olzomer (7) and Ridge Marpu (4).
Defensively, the Phoenix look solid, however, it will be their attacking third which will determine the fruits of this campaign. Their record at Cahill Oval is also a concern.
They lost all four matches at the ground last year by a combined score of 14-2 and will appreciate road trips over the early rounds of the competition. Finals seem a tough ask for the Phoenix, and it seems likely they will battle it out in the mid-table.
What coach Darren Sills Says:
“It’s going to be a much tougher competition this year. There is a lot of competition externally, with Joel Griffiths, [Leo] Bertos, [Shane] Cansdell-Sheriff up at Maitland and Kieran Sanders at Edgeworth. There is a lot of quality there, so we have got a couple of American boys to strengthen up certain areas of the park.”
“The goal for us is to make the top four and to improve on what we achieved last year. We think we’ve got the squad to be able to do that. But, just like every club, we need to get off to a good start.”
Last Year: 10th
Last Premiership: 1990
Coach: Steve Piggott
Gains: Jamie Byrnes (Lambton), Brock Oakley (Maitland), Andrew Goldman (unattached), James Thompson (Emerging Jets), Chris Hurley, Max Foster (Central Coast Mariners PS4 NPL)
Losses: Benn Kelly (Lake Macquarie), Robbie Turnbull (Adamstown), Nathan Morris (Lambton), Zac Sneddon (Valentine), Lee Ashton (Cooks Hill), Garry McDermott, Ash Balcomb, Rob MacBeth, Mick Ryan (retired)
Steve Piggott returns to the club where he masterminded a Grand Final run in 2014 and won coach of the year in the PS4 NPL the same season only to be sacked weeks later. He will have a very young side at his disposal with just three players over the age of 25.
The signing of Brock Oakley will add some much-needed NPL experience to the backline and striker Jamie Byrnes will add plenty of spark and pace up front.
Plenty of experience has left the club in the off-season, most notably with the departure of club stalwarts Nathan Morris and Robbie Turnbull, however, both couldn’t help Weston’s slide to rock bottom in 2016. It remains to be seen if Weston will improve on last year’s showing, and based on their pre-season form they should.
Piggott sees that a finals berth would be a huge mountain to climb. A mid-table finish would be a massive achievement for this young Bears side, but a battle to avoid the wooden spoon appears most likely.
What coach Steve Piggott says:
“Obviously, we don’t want to finish on the bottom. We’ve got a very young and inexperienced side who will gain momentum throughout the year. We will probably cop a few heavy losses and we will learn from those. Our hopes are that we can finish mid-table.”
“We are going with youth. We’ve only got three players over the age of 25. We went from an average age of 27 last year to an average age of 20 this year. If we are not the youngest side in the competition we won’t be far from it. We are a bit naive and don’t have a lot of experience but by playing every week that is what you are going to gain.”
Last Year: 4th (Lost Semi-Final)
Last Premiership: 1980
Coach: Matt Thompson (interim)
Gains: Shane Cansdell-Sheriff (Manly), Andrew Pawiak (Jets Youth), Luke Jennings (Wallsend), Josh Dutton-Black (Didcot Town), Adam Duggan, Tom Duggan (Broadmeadow)
Losses: Brock Oakley (Weston), Dean Heffernan, Matt Crowell (retired), Nick Russell (Cooks Hill)
Maitland went within a whisker of making the Grand Final in 2016, after a nail-biting 2nd semi-final leg against Edgeworth. An injured Matt Comerford picked out the top corner only for a brilliant Jim Fogarty save, while anything could have happened in a late goal-mouth scramble.
The Magpies will come back stronger in 2017 with a raft of new signings, including the much-travelled Shane Cansdell-Sheriff who arrives from Manly and attacking midfielder Josh Dutton-Black who comes from the UK.
While their attack wasn’t poor compared to the rest of the competition last season, when measured against the three sides above them there was a stark contract. That is an area which will need to improve this year.
With their current squad Maitland would be disappointed to not make the finals, but with just four sides entering the playoffs and a much tougher competition this season the Magpies will need to win the big games. Against the three sides above them last year, the Magpies won none of eight. That will need to change in 2017 and they have the squad to do so.
What Reece Thompson Says:
“Apart from not having a coach yet, Matt Thompson has done a terrific job in pre-season. If you look at what we did last year and the fact we have added a couple of players, our goal is to make sure we are a top four side and hopefully, we can go one better this year.”
“What the club has done really well in the pre-season is recruit some local juniors, like the Duggan boys. Now that we have some more depth we can do some big things.”
Newcastle Jets Youth
Last Year: 5th
Last Premiership: N/A
Coach: Clayton Zane
Gains: Caleb Cox (AIS), Pat Langlois (Magic), Mitch Dobson, Regan Lundy (Promoted from Emerging Jets), Daniel Alessi (Jets Squad)
Losses: Ryan Ensor (Adamstown), Tom Waller (Lambton), Jake McGuiness (Mariners NYL), Antonee Burke (Portugal)
Many thought the Jets would finish close to the bottom of the pile in 2016, and after a slow start where they won just one of their opening eight matches it seemed to be the case.
However, under Clayton Zane, the Jets showed a steely resolve in the back half of the season losing just one of their last five allowing them to climb the ladder and finish a respectable fifth.
With a similar squad to last season, the Jets should comfortably sit in the mid-table. The combined losses of Ensor, Waller, McGuiness and Burke will hurt the Jets, especially the goal scoring threat Burke possesses.
However, the return of Caleb Cox from the AIS is a boost while Mitch Dobson and Regan Lundy deserve their spot after starting last season in the Emerging Jets u/18s side who claimed the NPL u/22s title. Jets squad member Daniel Alessi should also get some game time as he returns from an ACL injury.
A finish in the top six wouldn’t be beyond this Jets squad.
What coach Clayton Zane Says:
“We want to be competitive. I think we showed that at the back end of last season. I think last year we took two steps backwards and one step forwards. The ‘97 group of boys didn’t kick on the way I would have liked, so we have had to shift a couple of boys unfortunately.”
“We learnt some hard lessons last year and we also had some good results with our backs to the wall where people thought things would go totally pear-shaped. I’ll be looking for this side to be around that 3rd, 4th, 5th position and aim to hang on the tails of the so-called bigger clubs.”