The new season gets under way this weekend with a new sponsor and, after a competition restructure, a new banner of the SUPA IGA National Premier Leagues NSW Mens 2.
What won’t have changed is the competitiveness of the league and the increase in standard which is noticeable year-on–year.
In a tough game first up, the double winners of last year, Northern Tigers, face the short but difficult trip to Christie Park to meet Spirit FC on Saturday night. One senses that Spirit will be a harder opponent this season after last year’s tenth place finish and while the Tigers held them comfortably in the two games last season, winning 3-0 and 2-0, it was only by a single goal margin that the Tigers were successful in a pre season friendly last month. Tim Simpson, back at Christie after a year’s sojourn at Mills Park, may be the one that Spirit look to, to unlock that tight Tigers defence.
Also on Saturday night is Fraser Park v Hills Brumbies. Both clubs promise to improve on last season’s final placing and looked primed to so do too. They have each recruited well while maintaining a solid core of players from last season. Michael Frost remains between the posts for Fraser and has proven to be a very reliable custodian and while Fraser’s leading scorer from last season Wassim Hijazi has moved on to Blacktown Spartans, Kris Holbrook is a more than adequate replacement. There will be something of a homecoming for Hills Brumbies’ Leigh Gunn who will be up against his former team mates, while Jeffrey Issa will enjoy taking on his old Granville Rage compatriots in Holbrook, Pat Cappuccio and Andrew Vitucci.
The third and final game on Saturday is at Hensley Field where Sydney University meet Mounties Wanderers. There was very little between these two last year in head to head, with Mounties taking a 1-0 away win while it finished 3-3 at Cook Park. But it was a different story on the league table with Mounties finishing fourth and Uni eleventh. Uni will be looking to improve on that lowly finish and where better to start than on the excellent footballing pitch at Pagewood. Expect a number of the successful Grand Final winning Under 20s side to take on the experience of Mounties, who produced a fine pre-season win over Northern Tigers last week, 3-1.
The attention on Sunday will turn to the two newcomers to the league meeting first up at Melita Stadium when Parramatta FC welcome Mount Druitt Town Rangers. Both have arrived from different directions with the Eagles dropping down from the Premier League while Mount Druitt rose from State League One. It remains to be seen who will handle the change in league better, but certainly the Rangers will not be overawed. They have plenty of experience at this level, with championship winners amongst them, so nothing will surprise.
Compared to any other recent season, Bankstown City FC could have expected to have won the title last year, with a points tally of 48 exceeding the champions’ winning total for each of the three years prior. It was only due to a particularly strong Northern Tigers side which have kept the Lions down but, if anything, Bankstown City will surely be up for another dominant year in this. They open the season against Macarthur Rams this Sunday at Jensen Park in a fixture which finished all square last year, although Bankstown did run away with the victory at Lynwood Park. This game should be a cracker with no shortage of firepower on display, Shannon Hankin and Almir Dizdaric for the Rams and Gosue Sama and Saso Petrovski for the Lions.
St George and Bankstown Berries meet in the final match of the weekend at St George Stadium, the third season in a row that they have met in the opening round. Both previous results have been 1-1 and this match promises to be just as tight. New coaches reign at both clubs with Manny Spanoudakis taking control at the Saints while John Calleja resumes at the Berries, after three years away. Changes in playing personnel at both clubs suggest that both coaches may be happy again with an opening point to start the season as they look to cement their playing styles for the year ahead. There will be plenty of hotshots on the field though with Golden Boot winners Juan Chavez (2009), Sam Messam (2010) and Dimitri Zakilas (2011) all on show.
-By Peter Rowney