You know how we say at the start of every season that “this is a marathon, not a sprint”?
Forget all of that – now we have 11 teams participating in an 11 round dash to the finals. Teams that don’t get out of the blocks quickly will have a hard time making this year’s post-season.
Blacktown Spartans v Central Coast Mariners, 7:00pm Saturday 18 July, Blacktown Football Park
Blacktown Football Park will see a clash between two sides who just missed out on the 2019 finals – everyone will be keen to start on the right note this time around.
Spartans were two from two before the lockdown, winning both of their March games against highly fancied opposition. They’ve kept most of last year’s squad, and that season of NPL 2 Men’s experience should help the young men in orange mount a consistent push for finals football.
Central Coast will be looking to continue their fantastic record against the Rooty Hill outfit: in six previous meetings the Mariners have earned five wins and a draw. There is also extra motivation – every A-League Academy player has their eye on next year’s Olympic Football Tournament.
Northern Tigers v Newcastle Jets, 7:00pm Saturday 18 July, North Turramurra Recreation Area
Sydney’s leafy northern suburbs provide the setting for Newcastle’s first foray into the NPL 2 NSW Men’s competition.
It could hardly be a tougher start to life in this division for the Jets: Northern Tigers have made the finals in five of the last six seasons. The men in white and green have also turned North Turramurra into a fortress, losing only one home game in 2019.
However, that is not to say that the hosts will have it easy. Newcastle, coached by former A-League marksman Daniel McBreen, scored an average of just over three goals a game in the 2019/20 Y-League season, so they definitely have plenty of firepower. As with Central Coast, Tokyo 2021 ambitions could help the Jets fly to the top of the table.
NWS Spirit FC v Bonnyrigg White Eagles, 7:00pm Saturday 18 July, Christie Park No. 1
Two teams from last year’s finals series meet at a (probably) chilly Christie Park, and there’s every chance we could see them again in this year’s postseason.
For Spirit, Jason de Jong’s return to the Netherlands is a blow, but they have a strong squad and will still be confident of a good season. The north-west Sydney outfit have improved their league finishes every year since 2017 (9th to 7th to 5th), so we can expect to see them challenging in 2020.
The White Eagles finished the 2019 season strongly, winning 10 of their last 12 regular season games. Given the short nature of this campaign, a quick return to this kind of form is vital – wins in both of their 2019 meetings with Spirit should help Bonnyrigg’s mindset.
SD Raiders v Hills United, 7:00pm Saturday 18 July, Ernie Smith Reserve
Newly-promoted SD Raiders face the defending Champions at Moorebank in what will be an intriguing clash.
The Raiders had mixed form in March, with an impressive win against Hakoah followed by a heavy defeat to St George FC. With natural grass fields becoming less common in this division, capitalising on home field advantage and the Ernie Smith surface will be key if they are to have a good campaign.
Hills United could do with a reset, having lost both of their pre-lockdown fixtures. While this is the first time Hills have played the Raiders, a side with plenty of Dural Warriors players might be able to take confidence from last summer’s Futsal Premier League season, where Dural beat SD Raiders twice.
Hakoah Sydney City East v St George FC, 3:00pm Sunday 19 July, Hensley Athletic Field
The Sunday clash takes us to Hensley Athletic Field, as Hakoah face St George FC.
This is the first time these two clubs have met since the 2015 campaign. That year, Hakoah beat the Saints twice on the way to promotion – possible good omens for the Eastern Suburbs outfit. While both of their March games were defeats, Hakoah did play well enough to show that they are to be taken seriously this year.
For St George FC, it might be a matter of which side turns up – the side that finished 10th last year, or the side that finished 2nd in 2017 & 2018? There’s certainly plenty of talent at the Saints’ disposal, and they will be a stern test for every side this season, especially since they have kept most of their key players from the last few years.
Bye: St George City FA
By Eric Subijano (@eric_subijano)