The long road to glory in the National Premier Leagues 2 NSW Men’s competition begins this weekend.
Across the league, there will be dreams of trophies, accolades and champagne-soaked celebrations, but for now the most important thing is to get the first step right.
Match of the Round: Western Sydney Wanderers v Hills United, 7:00pm Sunday 8 March, Lily Homes Stadium
Our first featured match of the year is a Sunday evening showdown as the defending Champions have an “away” game against the youngsters in Red & Black.
Hills benefited from a four goal first half blitz the last time these two sides met, obviously something in the same vein would do nicely. This is where skipper Daine Merrin could come in handy – he has four goals in four appearances against the Wanderers. At the other end of the experience scale, former Wanderers winger Stephan De Robillard has been impressing in preseason and is an outside chance to play against his former club.
Western Sydney have their usual array of youth internationals to help them start 2020 on a positive note. Jarrod Carluccio and Mark Natta were recently away in the Netherlands for a Young Socceroos training camp, while Ali Auglah and Oliver Kalac have experience with the Joeys. The Wanderers have scored in all six of their previous matches against Hills – Jacob Vasiliou and Rory Jordan will be important if they are to maintain that run.
Bonnyrigg White Eagles v Northern Tigers, 6:00pm Saturday 7 March, Bonnyrigg Sports Club
It’s a rematch of last year’s dramatic Elimination Final at Marconi Stadium. That day, the Tigers led twice after a Lucas Dawson double, but Bonnyrigg eventually prevailed thanks to Ray Miller’s 88th minute equaliser and Richard Darko’s extra time brace.
Bonnyrigg coach Wayne O’Sullivan shouldn’t have to look far to motivate his players for this clash. The last time the White Eagles played the Tigers at Bonnyrigg they were convincing 6-0 winners, with Miller and David Vrankovic among those on the scoresheet. They have every right to be confident, although Bonnyrigg would do well to learn a lesson from last season’s slow start, which left them with too much to do in the second half of the campaign.
For the Tigers, Rory Spiers and Ally Brown will be key in unlocking an experienced defence. However, they didn’t keep a clean sheet in any of their three meetings with Bonnyrigg last season, so defenders such as Will Foristal, Jordan Ferrier and Sam Wilson are vital in keeping things tight at the back. This is also an interesting first game for Nikola Krljar, who signed for the Tigers in the offseason after a long stint with the White Eagles.
Blacktown Spartans v Mounties Wanderers, 7:00pm Saturday 7 March, Blacktown Football Park
Spartans and Mounties were only separated by five points when all was said and done last season. Expect another close battle when they lock horns in the shadow of the M7 Motorway.
It’s a baptism of fire for the Spartans. Their first six matches are against either sides who finished in the top six last year, or Hakoah, the team dropping down from NPL 1. The Rooty Hill side did exceed the expectations of many in 2019, and with a young squad you feel there is plenty of improvement left in them. In particular, Finley Hayhurst should be even better this time around with the help of a full preseason.
Mounties have an excellent record against the Spartans (five wins and a draw in the last six games), however a late comeback was required in the most recent clash, so they can’t rest on their laurels. That comeback was sparked by Sean Rooney and Theo Kofinas, and that’s not the only reason Rooney will have fond memories of Blacktown Football Park: in 2017, he scored four goals in one game at that venue while wearing Marconi colours.
NWS Spirit FC v Central Coast Mariners, 7:00pm Saturday 7 March, Christie Park No. 1
Yellow & black meets yellow & navy in north-west Sydney as two sides who are usually competitive fight it out on Christie Park’s synthetic turf.
Spirit FC start their campaign by hosting the two A-League Academy sides. This weekend Central Coast make the trip to Macquarie Park, with the Wanderers following suit two Sundays from now. As usual, Spirit will look to Duncan Stewart for goals. Their top scorer from last season found the back of the net 19 times, and he is familiar to those from up the coast as well, having scored 18 goals for the Mariners in 2017.
Central Coast have a strong record against Spirit: six wins, a draw and just the single loss in their last eight clashes. Continuing this record will give the Mariners a nice push as they seek to re-establish themselves as a contender after missing out on the finals last year. They had an unusual record in 2019 because they picked up more points on the road than at home, so you definitely can’t rule them out for this away trip.
SD Raiders v Hakoah Sydney City East, 7:00pm Saturday 7 March, Ernie Smith Reserve No. 1
The South-West faces off against the Eastern Suburbs in this clash between the two newcomers to the division.
SD Raiders will be looking to make the most of home field advantage early on – four of their first six games are at Ernie Smith Reserve. Its wide open spaces definitely suit this attacking side, and they have plenty of players who can trouble the opposition goal, none more so than 29 goal forward Anthony Proia. Of course, they also need to defend, so look to goalkeeper Michael Rutherford and defender Shaun Irwin for stability at the back.
There were big changes at Hakoah over the summer, but a core group of players stayed to help the team bounce straight back into NPL 1. Harry Jones will skipper the side, plus the retention of Jack Green, Dominic Cox and Jordan Koton means there is plenty of higher division experience. Hakoah only scored multiple goals in a game once last year, the attacking duo of Bruno Mendes and Josh Da Silva are here to fix that lack of potency in front of goal.
St George FC v St George City FA, 7:00pm Saturday 7 March, Ilinden Sports Centre
A St George Derby to kick off the season! No chance of either side easing into the campaign, local bragging rights are at stake.
St George FC have a good record in this fledgling rivalry, notching up a win and a draw against City in 2019. As has usually been the case for the past few years, the Saints will look for Juan Carlos Romero, who scored in the last Derby, to lead the line for them. The Spaniard is also close to a milestone: his next goal will be his 50th in the NPL 2 Men’s competition.
City have their own goalscoring Romero – American forward Jason, who scored 13 goals in half a season for St George FC in 2018. If it’s true that players always score against their old clubs, then City will have no trouble finding the net because Jordan Morfitis and Tarik Ercan are also former Saints players. At the back, James Markovic and Stephen Athanaseris will be crucial in shutting down a talented Saints attack.
By Eric Subijano (@eric_subijano)