The wait is finally over and the first round of the National Premier Leagues Northern NSW will get underway this weekend. Season 2020 was originally scheduled to kick off in late March but was forced to be postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But what better way to reignite the top-flight fire than a grand final rematch.
Match of the Round
Edgeworth Eagles vs Maitland F.C
Sunday 2:30pm – Jack McLaughlin Oval
Heavyweights Edgeworth and Maitland will do battle at Jack McLaughlin Oval on Sunday almost 10 months since the Eagles were crowned champions after their 2-0 triumph in the 2019 decider.
The fixture looms as another colossal encounter between the two sides with both clubs returning with strong squads looking to pick up where they left off in 2019.
The biggest story of the suspension sees the Eagles without long-time head coach Damian Zane after Zane stood down from his role at the club.
Keelan Hamilton will take the reigns as interim coach and boasts an impressive coaching record having guided the New Lambton Eagles WPL outfit to the double last season.
Edgeworth have been bolstered by the return of centre-back Ayden Brice and have also acquired former Newcastle Jets striker Kristian Brymora to the red and black.
Defending premiers in Maitland will be gunning for more of the same this season with the challenge laid before them to repeat their commendable success of last year.
The Magpies picked up last year’s Golden Boot winner Braedyn Crowley while they welcome back Matt Comerford to their squad.
Maitland have lost key midfielder Matt Thompson from their premiership winning side but look to have assembled another star studded line-up.
Edgeworth boast a tremendous home record at Jack McLaughlin Oval, having only lost a handful of fixtures at their beloved home ground in the last three seasons.
With the shortened season in 2020 reduced to 13 rounds, both sides will view the game as an ideal opportunity to hit the ground running and gain an advantage on a potential premiership rival.
In the 2019 fixtures between the two sides, both sides shared the points in the two regular season games including a 3-1 win to Edgeworth at Jack McLaughlin Oval.
Although few can forget last year’s enthralling grand final spectacle, with two late Daniel Fabrizio goals the difference between the sides.
Both squads are largely similar to those that played in the 2019 grand final so the game shapes up as another must-watch between these proud teams.
Lake Macquarie City vs Lambton Jaffas
Sunday 1:45pm – Macquarie Field
In the highly-anticipated first game of the season, Lake Macquarie will host Lambton Jaffas to kick off their campaign on Sunday.
Both squads look vastly different to this time last year after strong recruitment drives from both clubs.
The Roosters were disappointed with their 2019 finish of ninth and have brought in some quality acquisitions in Chris Berlin, Cal Lewis and Reece Newton.
But Lakes have lost key player and captain Sam Walker to Broadmeadow, with Walker scoring 12 goals last term for Lake Macquarie.
Josh Rufo will also take to the dugout for his first match in charge of the historic club and will look to reel off a huge opening day win over a strong Lambton side.
Lambton were only one game away from a grand final last season and have brought in some high-quality personnel to bolster their stocks including reigning Graham Jennings Medal winner Mitch Oxborrow along with former Newcastle Jets midfielder Matt Thompson, exciting attacker Kale Bradbury. Riley McNaughton also returns to the Jaffas.
The big out for Lambton is last year’s leading goal scorer Braedyn Crowley after his move to Maitland but the Jaffas will feel they have strike all over the park. It was their defence that was their biggest asset last term only conceding a league best 18 goals, a stat they would love to reproduce with former A-League goalkeeper Ben Kennedy between the posts.
James Pascoe is again at the helm of the 2014 and 2017 champions and will look to produce a quality display to get off on the right foot in 2020.
Both teams played a number of trial games in the build up to round one after the long lay-off but will be eager to fire up the competitive engines and play for points at Macquarie Field.
Lambton held the edge over Lakes last campaign with two wins from two in their games against each other, including a 5-1 victory over Lakes in last year’s opening round clash.
With the new-look squads and extended pre-season, the team that can find their feet early and produce fluency will go a long way to winning this opening encounter.
Valentine Phoenix vs Broadmeadow Magic
Sunday 2:30pm – CB Complex
It will be Valentine Phoenix to take on Broadmeadow Magic in a mouth-watering opening day match at CB Complex.
Both sides are quietly optimistic about their chances in season 2020 and believe they can be there at the pointy end of the season.
Valentine were left disappointed with their 10th-placed finish last season having only picked up three wins but now they believe they have the right group of players to turn the tide.
Former A-League player Adam Hughes has come in to strengthen the Phoenix backline while they have also locked in experienced goalkeeper Danny Ireland to reassure a defence that leaked 60 goals last term.
Co-coaches Darren Sills and Sam Griffin have set high ambitions for the Phoenix and will desire a win to start their campaign.
As for Broadmeadow, Magic continually strive to be the best team in the area and were on the cusp of a grand final last season only to be denied by a resurgent Maitland.
That season-ending heartbreak will fuel Broadmeadow this year as they look to return to the top of the mountain.
Assistant coach from last year Anthony Richards has taken over from Ruben Zadkovich as head coach but already has a familiarity with the players after spending the last couple of seasons at Magic Park and was part of the 2018 championship-winning coaching staff.
Richards has brought in prolific goal scorer Sam Walker to partner James Virgili in attack and has signed Tom Smart from Charlestown.
The losses of Mitch Oxborrow and Kale Bradbury to Lambton and Josh Piddington’s retirement will hurt Magic with the exit of so much experience.
Broadmeadow have a superior record over Valentine in recent years which includes an emphatic 9-1 win over the Phoenix last year. But Richards said his team were prepared to face a tough assignment on Sunday.
“We had the news that the players weren’t getting paid nice and early but to their credit they all turned back up. They all just enjoy each other’s company,” Richards said.
“Even before COVID we were travelling in the right direction and starting to get things happening. It gave time for boys with niggling injuries to get over them.
“You can’t let the big teams get away from you and it is important to get off to a good start. Valentine are a good side who have recruited well and with some good players from last year still. So it will be a good game.”
Charlestown Azzurri vs Adamstown Rosebud
Sunday 2:30pm – Lisle Carr Oval
Charlestown Azzurri and Adamstown Rosebud will lock horns in a fierce round one battle at Lisle Carr Oval.
The wait is over for both clubs who were eagerly awaiting the 2020 season after not reaching the finals the previous year.
Charlestown is back under the Azzurri name and looking for a change in fortune having finished sixth the last two years.
The club appointed Graham Law to the head coaching position after a successful tenure with Cooks Hill United and Charlestown look to have put together another determined squad.
They have lost key players though from the initial line-up including Lachlan Pasquale and Scott Smith and will likely feature a lot of younger players this season.
Nathan Archbold remains between the sticks for the blue and white having picked up the Bill Mahoney award for Goalkeeper of the Year last year.
Adamstown endured a tough season last year to finish last but put together an impressive Heritage Cup campaign before the season was postponed, finishing runners-up to fuel some optimism ahead of the season for Rosebud fans.
The red and green have been boosted by the return of Shane Cansdell-Sherriff who will be player-coach this year, bringing a wealth of experience to the backline.
The historic club have not featured in the finals for a long time and the youthful Adamstown will be eager to atone for their showing last season and fight for a place up the ladder.
Charlestown beat Adamstown both times last season with comfortable 3-1 and 3-0 wins in their fixtures.
Weston vs Newcastle Olympic
Sunday 2:30pm – Rockwell Automation Park
Weston will take on Newcastle Olympic in a match that appears even on paper with both sides boasting quality that can turn any game.
The Bears narrowly missed out on a finals spot last year and this year the agenda is firmly set on returning to the finals mix.
The black and white have brought in ex-Kiwi international Leo Bertos to the head coaching position to replace Kew Jaliens. Bertos will look to have an immediate effect on his side when they take on Newcastle Olympic.
The Bears also hold a great home record at Rockwell Automation Park and will look to continue that stat against Olympic, having not been beaten there since round one last season.
Newcastle Olympic are back this year under their original name and are also a team looking to improve on their showing last year.
The club parted ways with Peter McGuinness before their round one clash with Alex Tagaroulias stepping in as interim coach.
Newcastle has signed Brazilian Rudnei Sheldon from the Western Australian NPL, while they have lost Shinichi Kawachi and Reece Petit before the start of the campaign.
The Bears held the upper hand in the previous games between the two sides, coming off a draw and a win against Olympic last year. But Bertos is still unsure how it will play out and believes his side must be aware of Olympic.
“It’s going to be interesting. We’re not too sure what to expect but I do know from being there traditionally Olympic are a team that like to score goals and that’s what we’re trying to be this year,” Bertos said.
“I just want to see the effort and competing for the full 90 minutes and get through the game ok, players staying disciplined in their roles.
“At this point in time, it’s just really getting through the first couple of rounds.
“Our aim is to improve on last year. Kew did a great job last season. They just fell short and the guys are really hungry to go further.”