As the adage suggests, a week is a long time in football. But it would have been hard to imagine that we would see a mid-season hibernation of similar length to that of the off-season.
Just two rounds of the Herald Women’s Premier League were completed before the season was suspended in mid-March due to the COVID-19 pandemic, with this weekend marking the return of the region’s topflight women’s competition.
And while results from the first two rounds stand, early season form will count for little with the football landscape drastically changed to that of almost four months ago. By the time kick-off rolls around on Sunday afternoon, it will have been 119 days since the region’s top female footballers took to the park.
Match of the Round
Broadmeadow Magic FC v New Lambton FC
Sunday 3pm – Magic Park
Anticipation is building at Magic Park as Broadmeadow prepare to open their 2020 campaign against last year’s premiers New Lambton after Magic’s first two games were postponed.
“I think everyone is pretty excited that we’re actually going to play a league match. But also anxious about playing it as well,” head coach Jake Curley said.
The game will see a host of stars return to the local competition including Adriana Jones, who last played in the WPL for Warners Bay in 2016.
“AJ is a positive for the squad. They get to see how she trains, her work rate and the girls like playing with her,” Curley said.
“She comes from a high level and I think other players enjoy playing with her. Plus it’s also a learning experience for them having to adapt to certain styles of play.”
A former head coach at the Central Coast Mariners Youth Academy, Curley believed his side’s depth and attacking prowess would ensure they were in the picture come finals football.
“I think the squad is pretty strong. I think fitness is something all sides will be working on. That’s certainly why we’ve been playing a number of inter-club games,” Curley said.
“We’ve got some good players and a fair bit of squad depth… our front three are very dynamic and I think we’ll be able to score goals.”
And while Magic are yet to take to the field, the Eagles side who line up on Sunday will look different to that of a few months ago.
Experienced duo Stacey Day and Georgia Amess chose to exit the club to join cross-town rivals Newcastle Olympic.
“Lisa Cochrane is now our club captain and Toria Campbell is our co-captain. They just embody our core values,” head coach Brad Jones said.
“We’re looking forward and as a playing group we’ve said every spot in both grades is up for grabs.
“We’re going to put the team that’s the best in current form on the park. If that’s the youngest person in the squad who takes that spot then great.”
The match will be the Women’s Premier League’s first at Magic Park since the 2015 decider.
Adamstown Rosebud JFC v Merewether United FC
Sunday 3pm – Adamstown Oval
It is the oldest rivalry in the Herald Women’s Premier League and a match-up known for spectacular goals and high scores. Based on history there would be no reason to expect anything different at Adamstown Oval on Sunday.
The Rosebuds find themselves at the top of the table after two rounds, with the home side looking to resume season 2020 with a momentum building win.
Head coach Ryan Campbell said he believed his young squad had what it took to be there come finals time but was quick to realise the importance of momentum in what is a shortened campaign.
“Getting a good start will be key. There isn’t a lot of points on offer and we are aiming to finish as high as possible,” Campbell said.
“Winning breeds confidence and hopefully we can get back to where we finished at the start of the break.
“The girls are at a good fitness level but we are obviously lacking match fitness and sharpness from where we were at due to the long break with no games.
“I’m hoping that we can dominate possession in our games and use our high pressing game to get success.”
Meanwhile, Merewether will be buoyed by the return of Jamee Ellis. The experienced centre-back cemented her return to the WPL with two goals against Newcastle Olympic in a trial at the weekend.
Her inclusion, alongside the return of Melbourne City’s Rhali Dobson, provides head coach Scott Ellis with plenty of strike power across the park.
“Jamee scored a free-kick about a minute into Sunday’s trial with her second touch on the ball… with Rhali and Jamee onboard, we’re in a really good position,” Ellis said.
“It’s awesome to have her back. It gives us a lot of flexibility in what sort of formation we play.
“We had the trial on Sunday against Newcastle Olympic which was really good.
“We’d played them just before we got shut down so it was a really good comparison of where we are now to where we were then.”
Warners Bay FC v Newcastle Olympic
Sunday 3pm – John Street Oval
If a derby between rivals wasn’t enough to get you out of your seat, then a match between Warners Bay and Newcastle Olympic should get you over the line.
Newcastle Olympic are one of the strongest sides in the competition on paper, while Warners Bay have established themselves as regulars when it comes to finals football.
According to Warners Bay coach Craig Atkins, his squad will go into Sunday’s clash well prepared after a strong but short post hibernation pre-season.
“The girls came back with a really positive attitude and all came back in really good condition,” Atkins said.
“We focused a lot on fitness… I thought just on our trial game at the weekend, the last part of that game, fitness wise we were on top.
“I think the character we showed in the trial was really positive, especially for the girls to fight back on a couple of occasions… hopefully we can take that momentum forward into this week.”
The off-season signing of experienced player Elodie Dagg will form a key part of a revitalised Warners Bay attack.
“Elodie is on a different level. I think that showed on the weekend, she scored four goals. She just reads the game so well,” Atkins said.
The challenge in front of Warners Bay is a daunting one, with the Newcastle Olympic side dotted with W-League experience.
Olympic will be bolstered by the arrival of Stacey Day and Georgia Amess, who joined the club from rivals New Lambton during the COVID hibernation.
At the helm, Harmonie Attwill said both women had slotted well into the Olympic set-up.
“Stacey and Georgia are a wonderful addition. Both girls share our football philosophy and are a positive inclusion to our squad,” Attwill said.
“The playing group is buzzing after such a long hiatus. We have a strong foundation of working hard but ensure the enjoyment levels are high.
“All players are to be commended for their individual commitment to training during the break. We will take each week as it comes but everyone is just looking forward to the challenge the match will bring on the weekend.”
Mid Coast FC v Thornton Redbacks FC
Sunday 3pm – Taree Zone Field
With the season reduced to 14 rounds, including matches already played, there will be an increased focus on strong early season results.
Thornton and Mid Coast sit at the bottom of the table heading into round three but with the element of the unknown the unexpected should be expected this weekend.
Mid Coast coach Mick Grass believes the COVID enforced shutdown has been a blessing in disguise for his young squad, which is made up of players from across the Mid North Coast and North West, including Coffs Harbour, Tamworth, Port Macquarie and Taree.
“It’s probably helped us a little bit. It’s helped us to double down on what we’d been working on, improve our conditioning levels, so if anything we should be able to come out and play some better football to how we started the season,” Grass said.
“Until you get through the first round and see everyone play you don’t really know what to expect.
“If we get everything we want to do right and we still don’t come away with points then we focus on what we want to do but we focus on how we do it around the side we’re playing.”
And while some sides have benefited from the break it has caused a change in strategy elsewhere.
“It’s been a difficult time for many of our players, having so many young players, many of whom are casual, the lack of work has hit them hard,” Thornton coach Alan Primmer said.
“We’re offering a chance for them to play and train when they can.”
The road trip north is never an easy one for visiting sides, with Primmer cautiously optimistic about what to expect at Taree Zone Field at the weekend.
“Sunday will be an interesting start given everyone is coming off just 10-days of contact training.”