The 2017 State League Men’s competition kicks off this weekend and it has a different feel about it following the promotion of St George FA and SD Raiders FC, making this year’s campaign an intriguing battle of who will be crowned Premiers and Champions.
St George and SD Raiders have joined the PlayStation 4 NPL 3 NSW Men’s competition after a very successful 2016 season, which has left this year’s edition wide open, with the likes of Hurstville FC and Bankstown United FC expected to be towards the top-end.
However, with numerous tweaks and additions to each side it is a crystal ball’s nightmare, but the perfect situation for supporters who can expect a very competitive and exciting season ahead.
The top four at the end of the season will still take part in the Championship Series, which puts teams against each other in order of how they finished across four games to decide who will meet in the final.
Bankstown United FC
Having established themselves in the NSW State League Men’s competition last year, expect to see Bankstown United FC more ambitious in 2017. Following the appointment of Claudio Canosa as coach and numerous fresh faces throughout the squad, Bankstown will certainly be one to watch.
Bankstown demonstrated a strong spine last season conceding just 35 goals which earned them a fourth-place finish, however, they only scored 44 despite Tom Markovski bagging 20 goals himself. Director of Bankstown United, Dimitri Husalas, believes the blend of youth and experience will be pivotal this year.
“With strong backroom appointments including ex-professional players, Claudio Canosa, Hugo Jimenez, Ron Gorrey and Scott Belgre it shows that we are serious about 2017,” said Husalas.
What about Bankstown’s style of football? Well, under the rule of Canosa Bankstown will look to play with a lot more conviction, especially when in possession.
“With Claudio Canosa at the helm you can expect the intensity and tempo to become a trademark of the team’s style of football. Possession and progressive football, with the ultimate goal being able to create as many chances throughout the game as possible.
A key thing this year will be making sure we can adapt to different opponents and just as important is the different pitches we play across the State League.”
That adaption will begin against Hurstville FC at Jensen Park on Saturday April 8. This fixture sees the two highest placed teams of last season (other than those promoted) square up in what is sure to be a thriller and arguably the match of the round.
Although it’s early days, it will be interesting to see the sort of performances we will see from two of the competitions big guns. Bankstown will be eager to get off to a good start under Canosa, a job that is crucial given the length of the competition this year.
Camden Tigers FC
After quite a successful season last year the Camden Tigers will be aiming to improve on their fifth-place finish with a reinforced defence and that same level of attacking football we came to expect.
During last season, they demonstrated their ability to score goals bagging a total of 50, however, they conceded 44 which was the second highest of the top six clubs and an area head coach, Dean Bradley, wants to improve on in 2017.
“We have been working on the foundations of our defence to make sure we don’t concede as many goals. We don’t want to have to score 3-4 goals every game because we have conceded three,” Bradley said.
If the Tigers could limit the goals they conceded it would put them in a very strong positon as they managed to hang onto the services of Jayden Russel, who finished as the competition’s second highest scorer with 20.
“We’ve got the league’s best player in Jayden Russel, he’s always unpredictable and we have given him a different role this season to give him more time on the ball. Our player to watch this year.
On paper, the Camden Tigers should walk away with three points this weekend given UNSW FC finished second last in 2016. However, football is unpredictable and with a remodel over the off-season Camden will be coming against a different UNSW outfit on Saturday April 8.
Can the Tigers continue scoring goals for fun, and will their defence be better? Arguably the two questions that will define whether or not Camden have the means to challenge for the title in 2017.
Gazy Auburn FC
If you were to base your predictions for Gazy Auburn FC in 2017 from the results of last season it paints a grim picture. They picked up the wooden spoon with a total of 12 points, 41 less than the eventual winners, St George. However, after a clear out can we expect a competitive side this season?
Club President Safet Alispahic, certainly thinks so, given the arduous work and direction of coach, Ernesto, during the off season.
“We are looking forward to the season because we did a lot of hard work in the last couple months and we think we have a competitive team,” said Alispahic.
“We have almost a new team this season. A lot of players left because of hard work and commitment for training, and out playing policy – no training, no playing.”
There is going to be no corner cutting under Ernesto this season, and that’s probably a good thing considering Gazy conceded 74 goals in 2016, while only scoring 26 times, the lowest in the league.
“Our coach, Ernesto, thinks that he has a good team and he believes in hard work for 90 minutes, and a never give up attitude. Discipline, no yellow and red cards, and team work.”
While the sides that finished toward the top of the ladder last season will look to produce repeat performances, Gazy FC will want to rectify the wrongs of 2016 all over the park, tighter defence and a shaper attack.
Gazy Auburn FC will have a tough first task as well in the form of Hurstville City Minotaurs. It will be a test on multiple levels, not only will Gazy have to put in a good performance, but points are a must given the shorter schedule this season, not to mention the bonding of a relatively new squad.
After finishing inside the top two for the third consecutive season, Hurstville FC have their eyes set firmly on the State League Men’s Premiership in 2017, and given their sturdy defence and solidarity as a squad they have every right to be considered strong contenders.
“We are looking to win the premiership this year, the players are very focussed and full of drive to aim for that goal,” said Hurstville FC State League manager, Jack Bulic.
What made Hurstville such a force last season was their incredible defence, conceding only 20 goals which was the second lowest in the league behind St George. However, they only scored 46 goals which was the second lowest of the top five and an area they will be looking to improve this time round.
“We are probably looking to attack more, rather than waiting to pounce. It will revolve more around building play up with either a press or quick transition, we will be trying to control the pace of the game rather than absorbing and trying to punch after that.”
This new style of attack will require plenty from the likes of Henry Kanlietner and Paul Gagro, while Michael Rutherford will keep everything rock solid at the back from in between the sticks.
“One of our ace attackers is Henry Kanlietner, he is dangerous down the left with his speed and power. Paul Gagro is the playmaker, and provides a lot of final touches with quality which led to plenty of goals last year.”
With Hurstville FC aiming to play with more lethality and Bankstown planning to produce a higher tempo it makes for a mouth-watering fixture for supporters on Saturday. Expect there to be goals and fireworks, when two of the stronger sides battle it out.
Hurstville City Minotaurs
For most of last year’s campaign Hurstville City were battling away at the wrong end of ladder, however, after four straight games without defeat including a 1-0 win over St George at the end of last season there is plenty to like about the Minotaurs heading into 2017.
Former Bankstown United FC coach, Petar Finka, labelled the Minotaurs a “wild card” this year, and it seems like one of the longest serving coaches, ‘The General’ Peter Sarikakas, believes his side can challenge this season.
“We improved at the backend of last season, we worked out a few problems we had and built upon that, so hopefully we can challenge for a top four position,” Sarikakas said.
Unlike most teams, Hurstville City kept their squad together and with the addition of some Brazilian boys among others, Sarikakas has been able to continue building on their improvements towards the end of last year.
“I’ve got a couple of Brazilian boys, among half a dozen new players. I think they will be good additions, however we are a team so hopefully they will blend in with the existing nucleus of last year.”
Hurstville City were slight lacklustre in the goal department last term scoring just 34 times, but as we know, Brazilians know how to fins the back of the net so expect to see a more dynamic Minotaurs outfit upfront.
The Minotaurs will be looking to express themselves against last season’s bottom dwellers, Gazy Auburn FC at Progress Park on Sunday April 9. Considering they conceded 74 goals last season, there is no excuses for Hurstville City not to demonstrate their attacking ability.
Nepean FC are looking to push past midtable mediocrity this season on the back of some strong recruitment under the firm control of coach, Magdy Andrawes. After scoring only 35 goals last season, an improved attacking outfit should be expected from Nepean if they are to challenge in 2017.
“I believe in the squad that we have assembled for this year and I have only signed players who I believe will help Nepean reach the finals,” said Andrawes.
“We managed to strengthen our squad in key positions that we identified last season as a weakness and I believe the lads are all bonding well so far.”
Much has been made about this year’s competition only having 10 teams, however, it has triggered many to focus on recruitment all over the pitch, and Andrawes is looking forward to the challenging task ahead in 2017.
“This year’s State League competition I believe will; be the toughest it has been as clubs have recruited well in the off season from players to coaches and I believe we will have a real battle on our hands, but I always welcome a good challenge.”
Nepean FC want to make Cook Park a fortress this year and they will a have the perfect platform to do so when they welcome Prospect United on Saturday April 8.
Prospect were slow starters last year, but after a strong finish expect them to come out of the blocks relentlessly. However, Nepean have earned some hype during the off-season and will be eager to ride the hype train on an express route to the finals, but the first stop require three points.
It took a while for Prospect United to get the ball to roll last season, however, towards the backend of the campaign they managed to claim some big scalps including wins over Bankstown United FC, and 5-0 and 6-0 victories against Gazy Auburn FC and UNSW FC respectively.
Head Coach and Technical Director, Brian Vella, resonated those thoughts and is confident Prospect United have the resources to improve on their efforts in 2017.
“We finished 2016 strong after realising our strengths. We have players who can change a game and are committed to our cause, we will have a season we can be proud of,” said Vella.
Out of the bottom five sides last season, Prospect United conceded the least amount of goals (47), and it appears they will be aiming to decrease that number as Vella points to some strong additions across the backline.
First Grade Coach, Darren Camilleri, also spoke of some new faces and expressed strength in their U20s as Prospect United look to rebuild after a heavy departure list.
“Our club has had some big turnover in personnel. New players to our setup include; Thomas Kasunic (Granville Rage), Daniel Farias (Rydalmere Lions) and Matt Pritchard (Rydalmere Lions).
“Players who I’m looking to have a real impact for our club is Nick Valjak and Joey Bayubahe, both will be instrumental in the final third,” said Camilleri.
After going through a big cleanout, the immediate outcome is positive, however, the same issues can arise when new acquisitions enter the picture. In other words, Prospect United will be looking to start on fire with their list of newbies.
They will meet Nepean at Cook Park, which is the perfect destination to setup their barracks and demonstrate a reinforced backline, while their attacking threat combats a revitalised Nepean FC.
After narrowly escaping last place in 2016, UNSW FC have completely overhauled their structure both on and off the pitch. With this shift in attitude and some of the new additions they have secured, it will look like a completely different team playing at David Phillips Sports Complex this season.
Wes Fagan is one of the first additions to the club after his time with Dunbar Rovers, joining as the assistant head coach and he was quick to highlight the shift in mentality at UNSW FC.
“New head coach, Nestor Moreno (2016 U20 Championship winning coach) has moved into the hot seat [this year] and has brought with him numerous top young players who will be looking to build on the success of 2016,” said Fagan.
Joining Fagan and Nestor will be Gabe Knowles, formerly of Leichhardt Saints, and Paul Carter and Darrell O’Neill. Carter will take care of game analysis, while O’Neill will look after the strength and conditioning side of things given his experience with the Sydney Swans Development Group.
“These additions behind the scenes will hopefully give the team the structure that they need to reach their potential. When you look at the setup we have at UNSW we should really be looking at moving up the grades.”
What about on the field then? Well UNSW FC have brought in experience and youth all over the pitch, from both abroad and within the local suburbs.
“Newly appointed captain, Lenox Tweneboa, is a massive coup for us. Lenox is a product of a Marconi Academy who came through the same group as Melbourne City’s Anthony Caceres.
“Some other exciting captures include Nima Beik, who was playing the second division in Sweden last year. Nima is another massive coup for the club, he is a player who is young, quick and has an eye for goal.”
Considering UNSW FC only scored 35 goals last season, fresh faces like Beik will surely add plenty of bite. Although, don’t expect to see all the attention go into their attack, as Nestor an co will also be aiming to rectify the 66 goals they conceded last term.
With that in mind, the football gods have dished up the perfect opposition in Camden given their goal scoring ability in 2016. Can UNSW FC withstand the Tigers, or will they stick their hand where it doesn’t belong?
Defence aside, it will also be very interesting to see if there are any teething issues considering the mass changes over the off-season. Not to mention the performance of Beik will be something worth keeping a close eye on.
UNSW FC will kick off their campaign against Camden Tigers FC at Ron Dine Reserve on Saturday April 8.
Wagga City Wanderers
If you were to dissect the Wagga City Wanderers’ campaign last year, you would probably be overwhelmed with the astronomical amount of conceded goals, 78 in total, the highest in the competition. Therefore, there is no surprise that defence is going to be key for Ben Schmid and his Wanderers in 2017.
However, in saying that, we aren’t talking about parking the bus or anything of the sort, instead Wagga City are looking to produce tight and ruthless football at both ends of the pitch.
“We are going to play a very tight style of football, and then when we go forward I’m going to let the boys express themselves. It’s going to be exciting football going forward, but very disciplined when we don’t have the ball,” said Schmid.
Wagga City will also be sporting some new faces this season with at least three additions, including two from American and a familiar face returning after a stint at Dunbar Rovers.
“We have been able to secure two players from America, including a holding midfielder. Confident on a third. Tyler Allen has also returned after a brief stint at Dunbar Rovers that didn’t quite work out. From the 20’we have Sam Jenkins moving up to first grade as well.”
It must be said that the Wagga City Wanderers are a bit of an underdog in the grand scheme of things, however, with a reinvigorated style of football combined with the addition of some “classy” players, expect to see quite a competitive team from Wagga.
They will certainly need to be when they take on Western Condors FC on Sunday to close out the competition’s opening round. Wagga will know what has happened with the other games and will be eager to start 2017 on the front foot.
Western Condors FC
Following a midtable finish in 2016, Western Condors FC have released a lot of players and have opted for a fresh group of young talents under the leadership new coach, former Bankstown City Lions manager Leo Carle. With so much promise and potential will the Condors be able to capitalise in 2017?
Samantha Wilkes certainly thinks these changes will bring Western Condors success, highlighting the emphasis on their style of football and talented youth that have recruited.
“The new coaching staff are aware of the brand of football Western Condors plays, a passing game, ball always on the ground with very technical players. But they will be looking at capitalising on the high percentage of ball possession into goals,” said Wilkes.
“Leo Carle has worked very hard in the last few weeks to get the new players to gel into a lethal squad and he thinks it will be a slow start to the season, but he’s sure come finals time Western Condors will be competing for the title.”
Carle has exhibited a “South American” style of football, and feeding into that ideology will be Chris Kartambis.
“A player to watch this season will be Chris Kartambis with his pace, physical presence in the final third and a killer finish. Come the end of the season he will be right up there in the race for the golden boot,” said Wilkes.
After scoring the second lowest in the competition last season (27), attack is an area Western Condors will be looking to improve. They will get to show off their arduous work against Wagga City Wanderers at home on Sunday April 9.
Expect to see a sleek and brutal approach to their football, that is providing they stick to the South American handbook. If that is the case, they have a big opportunity to score some goals as we know Wagga were not the strongest defensively last season.
*FC Gazy v Hurstville Minotaurs moved to Saturday at Valentine Sports Park 3 (7pm kick-off)
*Prospect United v Nepean FC WASHED OUT
-By State League Men’s reporter Jake O’Brien