By Isaac McIntyre
After a highly successful season in 2015, the PlayStation®4 National Premier League (NPL) Northern NSW competition returns for its third year and is set to be just as big and enthralling as the seasons that have come before.
After Edgeworth FC took out both the top place on the league ladder and managed to take a victory in the Grand Final with a 2-0 victory over Hamilton Olympic FC, many of the PlayStation 4 NPL teams will now be eager to prove that they can take down the defending champions.
The newest entrant to the top division is Valentine FC, who claimed promotion through an eight-point gap over their closest rival in the NewFM First Division competition. The new side will be eager to justify their promotion and prove that they are the best team in Northern NSW.
With big signings in the form of Hyundai A-League veterans, former competition stars returning and new coaches keen to prove that they can take their teams all the way, the season is set to be a thrilling one from start to finish.
With only eighteen rounds of action along with the nail-bitting elimination finals that beckon at the end of the season, the clubs are looking more strong and composed than ever – so this will be another phenomenal season of football and one that is not to be missed.
Adamstown Rosebuds FC
2015 Season Ladder: 6th Place
Coach: Graham Law
Falling below a finals place by four points in the 2015 season, the Rosebuds now look towards proving that they can bounce back and make it into the elimination rounds in the upcoming season.
Adamstown’s main loss of the season so far has been the promising youngster Aaron Niyonkura who was lured away by the Newcastle Jets Youth program. However the recruitment has replaced gaps in the squad that may have been lacking last season.
The stand-out signings for the Rosebuds have been Broadmeadow Magic FC’s Joseph Grujevski as well as Alex Clarke and Dylan Schauder, Americans who trialled with Singleton FC before eventually settling in to the Adamstown squad.
Other players that have joined in the form of replacements for the previous Adamstown squad, include Thom Lino coming from the Victorian leagues as well as Magic’s Grujevski, who is joined by former teammate Chris Berlin in the change of scenery.
“Obviously we’ve had a few more changes than we would have liked, but overall I feel like it’s become a team that is very strong in all areas of the park,” Coach Graham Law said of the side.
“We’ve created a great squad environment here and we’re looking at cohesion with the boys. The competition for finals is going to be incredibly tight this year and you can’t rule any team out.
“When you have a run-in like that, where every team is a key opponent and the same in the cup, then your team has to be up to it and I feel we have built a squad that has twenty strong players that can all bring what it takes on the day, and get victory,” Law concluded.
Broadmeadow Magic FC
2015 Season: 4th Place
Coach: Robert Virgili / Bobby Naumov
Last season Magic came into the finals just three points above Weston with their eyes set on the Grand Final. However the semi-finals were as far as the Magic side could go. This year they will be looking to return to their table-topping ways.
Magic’s squad were not one to lack firepower last season, with all top three goalscorers coming from the club. Kale Bradbery scored sixteen goals in nineteen matches for Magic, and both Peter Haynes and Dino Fajkovic weren’t far behind, scoring twelve and eleven respectively.
The first major signing for Magic was another attacking option however, coming in the form of former Newcastle Jets winger, James Virgili.
The former Hyundai A-League player has returned to focus on his studies at University with one eye fixed on the intention on making it back into the Jets squad and sees Broadmeadow as his chance to shine.
Options up-front are welcome for Broadmeadow, who lost Scott Pettit to a torn hamstring in a preseason match. The injury is expected to keep him out of playing for over a month, meaning that others including Virgili will have their chance to impress with the absence of the Magic front man.
With Nathan Archbold leaving the team as well, Virgili and Naumov were keen to replace him as quickly as possible and former Australian Schoolboy Nick Hartnett is one signing with his chance to impress coming early in the season as well as Jets midfielder Michael Kantarovski.
Charlestown City Blues FC
2015 Season: 9th Place
Coach: Shane Pryce
After keeping away from relegation by just four points last season, Charlestown City has had a series of problems in the off-season as players moved away from the Blues and others suffered injuries that could put them on the sideline for some time.
One of Charlestown’s promising players, Daniel Minors, is now playing at Edgeworth while goalkeeper Paul Bitz and young centre-back Damian Cox have also left the squad in the weeks leading up to the season.
Senior midfielder Matt Tull has also been ruled out with a shoulder injury in the lead up to the pre-season after falling awkwardly in training in January, with surgery putting Tull in recovery mode for the rest of the 2016 season.
The squad’s keeper replacement came in the form of Nathan Archbold, who returned from overseas and had been training with Magic for the start of the season.
Pryce was quick to sign him for the side and knew that experience between the sticks in defence would be key to improving their standing in the 2016 season.
2015 Season: 1st Place
Coach: Damian Zane
With Edgeworth FC having proven that they are top-table contenders in the end of the season last year, with both deep runs in the FFA Cup and claims to the minor premiership as well as their Grand Final victory over Hamilton Olympic in 2015, Damian Zane’s side now set their eyes on claiming back to back glory in the new season.
The first step in the process of defending their titles was signing former Hyundai A-League 2012-13 golden boot recipient Daniel McBreen, who returns to his grassroots club after leaving for Newcastle United.
Edgeworth looked to fill out their squad with more strong players for the coming season, the first of whom was Daniel Minors, one of Charlestown’s rising talents.
Aden Gardiner was also added to the squad list, with Keigo Moriyasu joining the ranks as well. Moriyasu’s father, Hajime Moriyasu, played for Japan in the national side, and currently coaches Sanfrecce Hiroshima in the J-League – Eagle’s coach Zane will be keen to see Moriyasu follow in his father’s footsteps in terms of skill and development.
The champion defending coach now looks to his squad for the next season who have their eyes on more silverware for the club.
“We’re ready to back up our great 2015 season,” Zane said when asked of the challenges ahead.
“The boys have had a taste at winning now, they took the top of the table by storm along with the Grand Final win last season. That feeling is cemented for them and they don’t want to miss out on the chance to put in back to back finals appearances and the chance to lift that trophy once again,” Zane concluded.
Hamilton Olympic FC
2015 Season: 3rd Place
Coach: Michael Bolch
After losing 2-0 to Edgeworth in the 2015 Grand Final, Hamilton Olympic knew that they would need a big impact signing for the upcoming season to continue their upwards trajectory.
Michael Bolch completed the side’s coup in recruitment with the signing of A-League veteran and New Zealand international Leo Bertos, one of the big-name signings of the league.
Bertos, now 34 years old, returned to Australia after appearances in the Indian Premier League for both East Bengal and North East United and had played with Wellington Phoenix and Perth Glory in his stints in the A-League.
With their impact signing to bring their midfield’s talent up by leaps and bounds, the Hamilton side will now eye another Grand Final appearance and a chance to claim the championship that Edgeworth denied them last season.
Lambton Jaffas FC
2015 Season: 2nd Place
Coach: James Pascoe
Finishing three points off the top spot and falling out of the semi-finals 4-3 against Hamilton Olympic, Lambton knew that they needed to bolster their squad to face the PlayStation 4 NPL challenge again.
Change is coming for the side however, with David Tanchevski’s six year reign coming to an end. Tanchevski’s leadership at the helm of the Jaffas, saw the club rise from the depths of the NewFM 1st Division to a challenging PlayStation 4 NPL side in Northern NSW, with honours coming in the form of the 2014 Grand Final victory.
Tanchevski will be replaced by former Jets assistant coach James Pascoe.
Before leaving his post however, Tanchevski had bolstered the squad’s roster.
The chance had arisen for the side to add another attacking player to their team when former Jets Youth forward Beau McDonald became available, but after departing the Jaffas, the side once again found themselves looking for an attacking option.
Changes within Maitland meant that their striker, Joel Wood, became available to other sides and Lambton snapped up the former Newcastle Jets star, a move that could boost the semi-finalists’ attacking force that already boasts Luke Remington, John Majurovski, Alex Palozzi and Jamie Byrnes, all of whom have proven themselves in front of the net.
Before departing, Tanchevski praised Wood’s presence on the field and knew that it would be much needed in the coming season, with his four goals in 2015 proving that he knows how to find the back of the net when called upon.
“He’s an experienced striker who can play wide on the right or up top if Maj is out. He can play anywhere in the front third and he’s been the top scorer in the competition before. He’s what we need and he can add a new dimension to our attack,” Tanchevski said.
2015 Season: 8th Place
Coach: Steve Piggott
Maitland avoided the drop by six points in the 2015 season and will be keen to stay away from that end of the table in the new season.
The major loss of the off-season for Steve Piggott’s side was Joel Wood, who was expected to move interstate and be unavailable for the Northern NSW National Premier League, but when the move didn’t eventuate the attacking player signed with rivals Lambton Jaffas.
The loss will be a disappointing move for Maitland fans, who watched Wood help their side to promotion in 2014 and kept them in the fight in the 2015 season.
Replacements for the Magpies’ frontlines come in the form of Dean Heffernan and Matt Crowell, both of whom have played in the Hyundai A-League in their past and Piggott will be focusing on getting them into the game and having them get the ball into the back of the net.
“There’s a massive change in the squad over the pre-season, plenty of players in the squad have left, so new replacements are supporting that,” Piggott commented.
“We want to focus on doing better than last year, we need to finish higher on the ladder then we have been.”
Other additions include former Hyundai A-League keeper Matthew Trot and the Thornton brothers, Carl and Liam from Weston.
Newcastle Jets Youth
2015 Season: 7th Place
Coach: Clayton Zane
After a season of disappointment for the Newcastle Jets Youth side, the new season would see them rise above and beyond for a new campaign and look to make a bigger impact on the league this time around.
The major signing of the Jets Youth side so far has come in the form of Aaron Niyonkura, who was identified at the Adamstown Rosebuds as a player that could continue to rise in the footballing ranks and he now joins Clayton Zane’s developmental squad for the season.
The club were eyeing a replacement for Tom Waller, one of the youth stars that had missed the National Youth League with a groin injury, but a strong return off the bench for Waller in a draw against Charlestown and in the game against Broadmeadow meant that he was in no danger of losing his place in the side.
If the Newcastle Jets Youth are to climb higher in the season, they must continue to keep their eyes turned to the development of their star players, some of which could have pathways set for them all the way to the Hyundai A-League.
One thing is for sure with Zane’s side however – mid-table is considered a failure for the squad and nothing but a push for the top of the table will be a good run in the league for the side that wears the red and blue.
2015 Season: Promoted from NewFM 1st Division
Coach: Darren Sills
It will be a year of proving their worth for Valentine, who took the top of the NewFM 1st Division by storm last season, claiming the title and promotion by eight points.
Darren Sills has taken the helm for the new season with one goal in mind – keep Valentine in the fight and climb the ladder and new signings came in many forms for Sills and his newly promoted side.
The Central Coast proved to be an ample supply of talent for the incoming coach, with Central Coast Mariners player Ridge Marpu joining the squad, as well as Beyhan Irmako, Josh Swadling and Darren Cooper all signing from the Central Coast leagues.
Building around the key squad that took Valentine to the top division last season, including golden boot runner-up Scott McGingley who tallied twenty goals to his name last season, the team’s only major losses came in the form of Damian Lobb, who moved back to the Central Coast, and Brett Adcock, who retired after the birth of his child.
Looking for players with ready-made National Premier League experience, the team also brought in a number of players from around the league, including the Newcastle Jets Youth squad player Reece Pettit, Brenton Olzomer from the title-winning Edgeworth and Alex Tserapas, who played in all but four of Olympic’s matches last season.
The signings were rounded out with Josh Murray from Lambton, Wilson Edwards from Weston Workers and Will Kam from Tamworth.
Sills believes that the squad he’s put together can go above and beyond the risk of relegation and will be able to move right into the mix in the PlayStation 4 NPL.
“We want to be competitive from the word go and the club has no intention in sliding back down into the NewFM 1st Division without so much as a whimper. We had a strict budget to build with and we managed to keep under that and still bring a strong squad to the table.”
“Every player that I’ve brought has that winner’s mentality. I brought in a player from each side of the 2015 Grand Final and every Central Coast man that I’ve signed are Grand Final victors.”
“We’re establishing a culture of winners and of finals and making sure that we come out on top. We’re hunting for finals football. Going off of trials form and of our strong showing in the FFA Cup, we shouldn’t even be near the drop come the end of the season.”
“Historically, the new team coming in is the spoon favourite, but I’d be shocked if we were near that come the end of the season,” Sills concluded.
Weston Workers FC
2015 Season: 5th Place
Coach: Trevor Morris
Three points and a single win kept the Weston Workers from making it into the finals last season and their close taste of the elimination matches are going to push Trevor Morris’ side to bigger and better things in the 2016 season.
With some of their stronger players from the last seasons leaving the club, including Brock Oakley, Jaime Subat and Wilson Edwards, Morris turned his eye to rebuilding the core of his starting eleven and the bench players that would bolster that.
Seven new signings came in for the Weston Workers side at the beginning of the season, with names like Lee Ashton, Mitch Wallace and Nathan Stevens being chalked onto the team sheets.
Ashley Balcombe, Ben Kelly, Greg Anderson and Josh Coleman rounded out the incoming players for the side that missed the finals by only a single win in the 2015 season and Morris now turns his eyes to what may be the most competitive NPL season yet.
“There won’t be an easy game in the entire league, from start to finish,” he commented.
“We lost a few of the older boys from our squad, something that we didn’t really want to do, but some star young juniors are now going to get a chance and if they can take that opportunity with both hands then we’ll be running.”
“On paper, every single team has quality from the top to bottom and all across the pitch, it’s going to be a really tough year. We just have to make sure that we’re in it, and that the boys are up to the challenge,” Morris concluded.
With finals their objective for the season and a chance to battle it out for a place in the Grand Final, Morris’ side will not be one to underestimate as they look to repeat their strong opening again this year and to show why the Weston Workers Bears are one of the top teams in the PlayStation 4 NPL Northern NSW competition.