By James Ward
There has been plenty of change at Charlestown over the off-season with the club hoping a new coach, a fresh roster and the return to the famous Azzurri name will inspire them to reach the NNSW NPL finals.
The club has appointed former Cooks Hill United coach Graham Law to the head coaching position after three successful years in the NEWFM Northern League One competition where he won three premierships and a grand final in the division.
Azzurri has fallen just short of the finals in the last two years with their most recent campaign ending in sixth, finishing two points outside of the top four after a heartbreaking final round loss to Broadmeadow ended their finals hopes.
Charlestown boasted the second best defensive record in the league last season but have lost key defenders Adam Hughes and Riley McNaughton.
But Nathan Archbold will remain a key pillar in the Azzurri backline after picking up a league-high seven clean sheets to be named the Bill Mahoney goalkeeper of the year for 2019.
Law has placed a huge focus on attack in the off-season and has brought in Regan Lundy from Weston to accompany proven goalscorers Kane Goodchild and Scott Smith.
Azzurri has also locked in exciting youngsters Riley Smith and Jackson Frendo, with the pair coming from the Newcastle Jets Youth system to help boost the squad that has not featured in the finals since 2014.
The side played a host of fixtures in pre-season with a notable draw against the Illawarra Premier league champions Corrimal Rangers.
Charlestown’s potential has been simmering for a number of years and season 2020 could be the year Azzurri finally make their breakthrough – following the resumption of football after the Coronavirus suspension is lifted – with an abundance of quality in their line-up.
Law said he and his players looked forward to the challenge.
“There is a good bunch of senior boys so we thought to bring in a bit of youth to compliment the experienced players,” Law said.
“I would like to think you will see a more attacking Azzurri this year, obviously with a defensive mind as well, but we are playing to win games and playing on the front foot.
“In any walk of life you can become a little bit stale. So this challenge is good for me as a coach as well. It’s a higher level and you’re up against good coaches and good teams and I’m looking forward to the challenge.
“We’ve had a good pre-season and if we can keep everyone on the park we will be looking to make the play-offs as a minimum.
“I’m also really pleased how they’ve come together as a squad and our goals are pretty similar to everyone else’s but we’ve just got to show we are a bit more hungry for it.”
After a couple of years of heartbreak, fresh changes could be the right formula for Charlestown Azzurri.
With plenty of arrivals and departures, it will depend how well the squad can adapt and build combinations from the get go.
Azzurri will be gunning for a play-off place and with five teams now able to qualify, they’ve got more than a fair chance.
Charlestown Azzurri F.C.
Coach: Graham Law
Captain: Matthew Tull
Last Season: Sixth
Ins: Cal Bower (Lake Macquarie), Jackson Frendo, Riley Smith (Newcastle Jets Youth), Matt Johnson (Woongarrah), Regan Lundy (Weston), Daniel Bird
Outs: Adam Hughes (Valentine), Cal Lewis, Kaman Bol, Tyrell Paulson (Lake Macquarie), Cameron Sullini (Belmont-Swansea), Daniel Hughes, Riley McNaughton (Lambton), Jamie Byrnes (Hamilton Azzurri), Max Vegter, Musa Kamara (Weston), Peter McPherson (Toronto-Awaba), Tom Smart (Broadmeadow)