Most normal competitions around the world like to ease into their competition.
That doesn’t apply in the State League Men’s competition, as we kick off the season with a bang as two of the competition’s favourites play each other in round one.
However, don’t discount the chasing pack this season as many have refreshed their squad in an attempt to prove their worth in what will be the last state league season before the much talked about NPL NSW Men’s 4 comes around.
It was the worst possible return to the State League Men’s competition for Balmain Tigers in 2018. Changes needed to be made and in a busy off-season, the departure of long serving head coach Joe Di Giulio paved the way for a new regime.
From here I’ll let new coach Sasha Tirovski, a former NPL player, speak for himself.
“As it stands without Wagga we come into this season as wooden spooners, 40 yellows and 12 reds is something I can’t and won’t accept. Our goals for 2019 are simple. Be disciplined, work hard, be in each and every game.
“Eighteen new players with four months preparation is a challenge which I have accepted. Each one of those signings has a vital role to play in changing the culture and attitude around the club. Everyone at the club deserve credit for their attitude, application and effort thus far.”
Sounds like a massive rebuild at Balmain Tigers, the first chance for them to recapture their roar comes as they travel to Prospect United on Saturday night.
Central Coast United
There is one side with a big target on their back this season, it is Central Coast United.
It didn’t take them long in their inaugural campaign to show that they were a team to be reckoned with. However, they were beaten to an unlikely first season promotion in heartbreaking circumstances on the last day.
That didn’t halt their finals campaign and despite being down on numbers they proved their steel in claiming the championship with a win over now promoted Bankstown United.
This season the element of surprise is gone and the club as a whole is expecting a tougher campaign. Still, the core of the squad remains with the club retaining the likes of Daniel Mcfarlane and Adam Woodbine.
However perhaps crucially they have bulked up the squad further with a particular focus on bringing youth into the club.
In terms of losses, Josh Swadling has departed the club for the Northern Tigers in the NPL 2 NSW Men’s competition.
Reigning champions Central Coast United will face a tough task to open the season traveling to Nepean FC on the opening day.
FC Gazy Auburn
Another year, another disappointment for FC Gazy Auburn in season 2018.
A few decent results toward the end of the season could not paper over the cracks of an inconsistent campaign.
One of those results last season was a win over UNSW FC who finished in third though so that should serve as a warning that this unit is indeed improving.
The question is, have they improved enough to challenge for a final spot this season?
It’s hard to attach particular importance to pre-season results, however FC Gazy Auburn turned a few heads when they convincingly beat Parramatta FC a few weeks ago.
Keeping cards close to their chest, they have brought in a few new faces into the mix.
All signs point to a more positive season, expectations should be tempered early though with a few injuries coming in.
Eyes will be on FC Gazy Auburn as they host Hurstville FC in the sole Sunday fixture this weekend.
This can’t be right? Fraser Park in the State League Men’s competition.
Weren’t they supposed to be challenging in the top tier NPL NSW Men’s by now?
Well I guess the positive for them is they can’t really fall any further.
Yep it is correct, they are here after quite the couple of seasons.
Last year they finished rock bottom of NPL3 only managing a single victory in their 26-round campaign.
So, who has been given the job of turning the ship around?
At the helm to rebuild the club is Renato Jelen and don’t expect to see many familiar NPL3 faces.
Like Balmain, they have undergone a squad revamp with only five players remaining from last season. Enough of the past though, this year they will come in with the most diverse squad which you could almost confuse for the United Nations.
It’s a new day at the club and they are ambitiously aiming for promotion this season.
Their first chance to prove they got what it takes comes against Hurstville City Minotaurs on Saturday night.
Hurstville City Minotaurs
Well at least they don’t play at St George Stadium anymore.
State league residents Hurstville City Minotaurs prepare for another season under the General aka Peter Sarikakis’ guidance.
The aim? To break into the finals picture after a long absence of post season action.
Whilst achieving a few positive results such as a win against Nepean at Cook Park last season.
They really couldn’t find the consistency to mount any sort of challenge and finished in eighth place.
With that in mind, improvement is the key for Hurstville City Minotaurs this season.
Here we meet another team not willing to give away too much but the General has promised a better campaign than last.
If their last pre-season result is to go by, that could well be the case as they gave Central Coast United a scare a couple of weeks ago.
I guess with that in mind, all shall be revealed round one when they face league newbies Fraser Park Saturday night.
One result can make all the difference as to whether you play at least an extra game in the finals. Hurstville FC finished two points shy of that finals berth having flirted with a fifth place finish throughout the campaign.
Missing out on the finals will hurt though, they hadn’t missed out on post season action since 2013.
It’s a year where several clubs including this one will want to prove their existence.
Is one of them Hurstville FC?
The aim for this season is just to go one step further and in turn achieving finals football.
To achieve that the club have had a good pre-season with coach John Gagro claiming that his squad is in a lot better position than a season ago. Squad wise, Hurstville have their strengths and they have their weaknesses.
We’ll let you figure them out but their depth sticks out with them nearly being able to field two teams in certain positions.
It’s a case of preparing for the unexpected for Hurstville FC as they travel to FC Gazy Auburn on Sunday afternoon.
Third time lucky? Nepean FC have knocked and knocked but they haven’t broken the promotion door down.
This serves as the last chance of which they can get promoted through the club championship system. Last season it was a slow start in first grade which denied them any chance of being promoted.
Despite that, they went on a late season run which saw their season ended a game before the grand final last season.
Well what do we know?
Well the “p” word (being promotion) has been banned from the squad.
Key players Masudi Elongo and Jamie Dib have left the club to greener pastures at Macarthur Rams. Apart from that, most of last year’s squad have stayed on-board with some shrewd additions added to the mix.
As for the pre-season, there has been a focus on team bonding in a bid to hit the ground running.
What an opening game this will be as they host Central Coast United at Cook Park on Saturday night
Our next contestant is Prospect United. Prospect shocked many with their finishing position last year, taking advantage of a poor start from Nepean and winning the games they should’ve to finish in a very respectable fourth position.
Backing it up will be tough this season as the quality in the competition only seems to be increasing but more fixtures at William Lawson Park could see them pick up a surprise or two.
As with any team, there has been some turnover in the squad at Prospect.
However, the core of the side in captain Thomas Kasunic, key attacker Nick Valjak and goalkeeper Daniel Farias remains intact.
Perhaps using a close Rydalmare connection, it is no surprise to see a couple of recruits coming from them in Poda Da and Peter Youssef who will be looking to nail down a spot in Darren Camilleri’s squad.
Prospect United host Balmain Tigers on Saturday night at William Lawson Park.
South Coast Flame
It was a solid if not unspectacular start to existence for South Coast Flame last year.
If we are being harsh, we could say they were very much in the shadow of their fellow ‘coast’ side. In finishing in ninth place their main flaw was they couldn’t seem to pick up points against the top five sides.
However, you would suggest that they are primed for a potential finals challenge with the squad that little bit more experienced.
Coach Paul Robaard has opted to compliment his squad for the forthcoming campaign.
They have retained ten players from their inaugural season including captain Matt White, the versatile Matthew Mazevski whilst exciting youngsters Andrew Bova and Caleb Grace remain as well.
In terms of acquisitions, the Flame have acquired three Japanese imports in Hiroaki Ushijima, Yuki Mandal and Seiya Oba.
Who will be complimented by the promotion of three youth players.
A rebuilt Flame side will try to find their flicker early. They face Western Condors at home to open their sophomore year.
UNSW FC made a step in the right direction last season, the students found themselves in a finals position for the first time since 2013.
Despite this, their campaign ended in straight sets in a frustrating finals series.
This marked as the end of a long slide which saw them finish well behind the only two other sides to hold pole position in the table (Central Coast United and Bankstown United).
Lessons have been learnt though and maybe they can surprise with a possible promotion.
When things were right last season, they were one of the best sides to watch in the competition.
After a long off-season of soul-searching, changes have been made.
Pinpointing where things went wrong last season, the club have brought in some experienced heads steady the ship.
Headlining the signings is former Sutherland Shark Matt Villazon.
Who will be joined by international recruits Jordan Clarke from the Southampton academy and Mick Leahy from Ireland.
If that’s not enough Aaron Richmond, Ben Sunderland and George Arnold buffer the squad from a strong Eastern Suburbs local association competition.
Last year was about setting the foundations in place so the Western Condors could fly once again. Having gone back to the future with the appointment of Barry Zambrano last season, they finished in a solid mid-season position.
To achieve more, the condors will have to turn around a poor finish to last years campaign only picking up one win out of the last five. Will a formidable home ground be enough for them to swoop in on a finals place?
So how do you get yourself out of mid-table obscurity?
Barry Zambrano will be hoping a squad refresh is the answer with half of his squad sent to the recycle bin during the off-season.
To replace them David Muller, Gabriel Gomes and Jay Takahashi join after spells in the NPL.
As well as the acquisition of Genki Takatera. This squad looks capable of ruffling a few feathers in the competition, that’s if they can gel quick enough.
Western Condors take the long road trip down the South Coast to begin their season.
-By State League Men’s chief writer Justin Smith @smiththejustin