There has never been a better time to be following the NPL2 Men’s competition. With the competition looking as hectic as ever. We can expect the trademark thrills and spills in what will be a highly competitive competition.
So, time to delete that Football Manager save that has been keeping you occupied over the break. It is time for the real thing to get underway.
Blacktown Spartans FC
Last Season: 5th (W4,D3,L3)
We start our preview with the best team to not make the finals last season (at least according to the table). The Spartans proved a worthy combatant in last years shortened season, winning four, drawing three and losing three whilst playing that formation. A five-goal victory over Newcastle highlighted their campaign, however a five-game winless run proved costly when it came to qualifying for the finals.
Returning once again to the hot seat is Brett Hewit for his third campaign in the dugout. Whilst on the field, Andre Carle returns from injury and he will be joined by Alex Golan, Connor Eldridge and ten others from the 2020 squad.
Departing, there is only one name to talk about. And that is Lachlan Rose who now turns out regularly for Macarthur FC. A move of which the club is proud of.
Whilst coming in, the Spartans have been busy adding multiple familiar names to their midst. With Emilio Martinez, Perry Fotakopoulos, Nikola Krljar and Emilio Manos all appearing in the NPL2 competition previously. Whereas former NPL1 youngsters Nikola Pintor, Michael Jeffrey and Dimi Petratos will be knocking on the door of the first team.
Bonnyrigg White Eagles FC
Last Season: 4th (W6,D1,L3)
Steady yet unremarkable, Bonnyrigg are making a habit of playing semi-final football in the NSW second tier. However, this year with a coveted top four position up for the taking, the Eagles will be dreaming of a return too top tier football in 2022.
Conceding the equal fewest goals in the competition whilst also making themselves hard to beat at home (losing just the one game to Newcastle Jets). The team from Sydney’s south west notched up some impressive results in 2020. A round two win over Northern Tigers highlighted their season, but unfortunately their season came to a premature end, running into a red-hot Mariners outfit in the semi-finals.
Joining the Eagles this season are five players who are expected to compete for first team places. Those being Jacob Macdonald (Spirit), Kuot Maliet (Rydalmare), Judah Cleur (Marconi), Jakub Kresner (Hamilton Olympic). Whilst the likes of James Chronopoulos, star skipper Ray Miller and Sam Gallaghar return determined to lead their charge. They will be coached by Wayne O’Sulllivan who returns for his third season at the helm.
Central Coast Mariners FC
Last Season: 1st (W7,D2,L1, Champions)
Every coach envisages the perfect season and didn’t Central Coast Mariners come close to exactly that last year. Yes, I know it was short, but it was oh so sweet for Nick Montgomery’s young men as they won both the premiership and championship last season.
However, such is life for an A-League academy, the Mariners have undergone a significant amount of turnover. Eight of last year’s Grand Final winning squad are now training with their A-league counterparts. Of those, Alou Kuol and Jordan Smylie have both found the net. Whilst Max Balard and Dan Hall have both made their debuts in the first team.
But never fear Mariners fans, quality reinforcements are in abundance having won the 20’s competition comprehensively last year. And having had a pre-season full of games against NPL1 opposition. Expect the defending champions to be ready when it comes to defending their crown.
Hakoah Sydney City East FC
Last Season: 7th (W3,D1,L6)
It is never easy adjusting to life in the second tier after a relegation the year before. And so, it proved for Hakoah Sydney City East in 2020. Managing just the three victories in their ten games, Hakoah struggled on the road, failing to register a point away from their Eastgardens base.
As a result, the squad has undergone a refresh in the off season. Exiting the club are Josh Da Silva and Jack Green who have found new homes in the division. Whilst Matt Nezval, Charles Cox, Jan Schmidt and Daniel Lowe also have also departed.
Replacing them, coach Luka Hrzina has cast his net far and wide. Bringing in the highly talented former Blacktown City defender Yianni Spyrakis, Josh Bartolotto, ex-Stallions defender James Baldachino and Jacob Espositio to the club.
After some encouraging results in the pre-season including a 1-0 victory over Sydney Olympic. As well as a fully fit Bruno Mendes, Hakoah will be eyeing the top tier once more.
Hills United FC
Last Season: 10th (W2,D1,L7)
Not where they expect to be, Hills United will be looking to make things right after a disappointing 2020 season. Having won the 2019 grand final, the team from Sydney’s North-West struggled to cope with the target on their backs, finishing the season with just two victories in their ten matches.
However, results only tell a part of the story, with the club having to make a couple of coaching changes throughout the year. Now approaching the 2021 season, they will be led by former NSL star John Gibson, brother to Local FC’s Chad, in the dugout. And they have not messed around in the transfer market. Signing six players to complement those already at the club. Highlighted by the acquisition of Duncan Stewart who has close to 50 goals in the league. United also added Joel Tinker and Rainer Smahel from Northbridge (North Shore Mariners), The returning Shaun Catlin as well as Stu Gosling from Blacktown City and Jack Green from Hakoah.
Can they secure a coveted top four place? Time will tell but you would not bet against them.
Mounties Wanderers FC
Last Season: N/A
Coach: Jerry Bilokapic
New board, New coaching staff, New squad. Since we last met them, a lot has changed at Mounties Wanderers FC. And just four players remain from their early 2020 exploits before covid hit.
Incoming to steer the ship is former Sydney United assistant Jerry Bilokapic and he has the rare opportunity to rebuild the club from basically nothing. Bilokapic has brought in a fresh coaching staff and recruited a set of players who are ready to prove a point in first team football having sat on the fringes elsewhere.
At this point, I would normally list departures. But it is easier to tell you whose stuck around and they are Zack Douglas, Luka Arnautovic, Anthony Windsor and Gergis Abdalla. Joining them at the club are a total of fifteen signings, highlighted by the acquisition of ace marksman Adrian Vranic from Sydney United 58. Whereas talented youngster Mark Moric (Rockdale), Jake Trajkovski (Rockdale) and Harrick Sinpraseuth (Hills) join him, among others.
Northern Tigers FC
Last Season: 3rd (W6,D2,L2, Runners up)
Coach: Adam Hett.
So close yet so far, Northern Tigers will be looking to go one step further in 2021. In a chaotic year, the Tigers managed to give some young players an opportunity and put together an impressive run in the shortened campaign. Only falling victim to Central Coast Mariners in extra time in last year’s decider.
Returning to coach another year is Adam Hett for his third season in charge. He will be joined by the majority of last year’s squad with the exception of Ollie Wiggin (ACL) and a few others who have gone onto pastures new. Including long term servant and captain Luke Dawson, Liam Mcconaghy and Jordan Ferrier.
To replace them, Hett and the Tigers have gone for a like for like approach. Bringing in Lachlan Mcgrath and Jamie Glover from Manly. Dom Nasrabadi and Lachlan Hughes from APIA. Whilst Hugo Forlico and Bailey Rule also join.
Coming into this season, the Tigers are looking strong, notching up some impressive results in the lead up to round one. So, do not be surprised if they get a fast start.
NWS Spirit FC
Last Season: 2nd (W7,D1,L2)
It is pretty scary to think that NWS Spirit can improve, but that is exactly what the league’s longest serving coach David Perkovic expects from his side. The Spirit started well last March, taking four points from the A-league academy sides in the first couple of weeks. Whilst post Covid, they were good without being great, finishing second and reaching the Semi-final. However, an 8-3 defeat to Central Coast Mariners and being knocked out by their local rivals Northern Tigers has left some fire in the belly coming into 2021.
Departing the club, 2020 top goal scorer Duncan Stewart has left for Hills United. With Emilio Manos, Jake Harris, Peter Pelekanos and Christopher Marques joining him in the departure lounge. And Lewis Beumie will also miss the season after doing his ACL.
Whilst Incoming to replace them, Perkovic has brought in Luke Clifford, Luke Okuda, Musashi Kokubo, Brian Jamba, and Geoffry Lino. Add to that the return of Grant Cornwell from injury and the Spirit may just have replaced their outgoings well.
If they get off to a good start, it is hard not to see the Spirit challenging once again in 2021.
Last Season: 8th (W2,D3,L5)
In 2020, league newcomers SD Raiders proved they were not here but accident, finishing in a respectable 8th place. Now established in the league, the coaching duo of Nick Carle and trusty assistant Sergio Malfara have looked to add some NPL2 experience to their stocks.
But firstly, let’s touch on their departures. Club legend John Fahmi has left the club after years of service joining Macarthur Rams, where he will be joined by James Raiti and Matias Toro Suazo. Diego Molina joins Parramatta FC in NPL4 and Charles Abou Serhal also departs.
Coming in to replace them, the Raiders have brought in Josh Da Silva (Hakoah), James Markovic (St George FA) and Thomas Woerndl (St George FC) who all notched up game time in last years shortened season. Whilst David Malishev and Alexander Malfara will also be looking to make a mark in first grade football, the youngsters joining from NPL1 clubs.
St George City FA
Last Season: 6th (W5-L5)
On your mark, get set, Go. 2020 will be viewed as a missed opportunity for St George FA. A slow start ultimately cost them a finals place in the makeshift Covid competition. So, coming into this season, the focus is getting the team up and running so they do not pay the same price in 2021.
And there is no doubt about it, if they stay fit, they will challenge for a finals spot. That is a big “if” though, with the club not possessing the depth which other contenders have. Once again returning is inaugural coach is Mirko Jurilj.
When it comes to players, they have recruited three players from their local rivals and one from Blacktown Spartans in the hopes of strengthening their defense as well as adding that little bit more creativity. Those players you ask? Juan Carlos Romero, Paolo Mitry and Alexander Kyriacou from St George FC. And Joshua Orchard from Blacktown Spartans. Whilst departing the club are James Markovic and Tacettin Kumsuz.
With lofty ambitions, St George FA will be hoping for their best season yet.
St George FC
Last Season: 9th (W2,D3,L5)
Things have not gone to plan for St George FC in recent seasons. Having finished second two seasons in a row (2017-18), the Saints have found themselves stuck in the lower half of the standings in recent times.
As such, changes have been made to the set up in the hopes of a better 2021. Making his NPL 2 coaching debut this season is Ben Rollison. Rollison returns to the club having assisted Terry Palapanis previously.
And with it, he has not been afraid to make changes on the park. Of last year’s squad, Juan Carlos Romero, Paolo Mitry and Alexander Kyriacou have joined local rivals St George FA. Whilst up to nine others have joined them in departing.
Coming in to replace them, Rollison has brought the quartet of Angus Chance, Conor Quilligan, Gabriel Lopez and Thomas Quilligan from his previous club Stanmore. Whilst also adding Liam McConaghy into their midst.
However, the club are just as rapt that they have been able to retain Emmanuel Gonzalez and Bruno Pivato who will both play pivotal roles in Rollison’s squad.
Western Sydney Wanderers FC
Last Season: 11th NPL1 (W2,D2,L7)
Returning to the competition after having an invaluable Covid-affected season are the Western Sydney Wanderers. Plying their trade in NPL1, the Wanderers picked up some confidence building results in the latter half of the season under the leadership of Patrick Zwaanswijk. A performance which has seen the likes of Thomas Aquilina and Mo Al Taay promoted to the A-league squad on scholarship contracts. Whilst fellow academy graduates Thomas Aquilina and Mark Natta have also made a mark in the Wanderers first team.
Priding themselves on giving their young talent opportunities, the wanderers have an ever-changing squad throughout the season. Too make room for that, it will come as no surprise that nine players from their 2020 squad have found a new home. Rory Jordan, Dauntae Mariner and Fabian Monge to name a few.
Replacing them, will be a fresh set of youngsters ready to set the league alight. Whilst they have also strengthened their attack with the signing of quality young gun Reuben Awaritefe from Central Coast Mariners.
With a new home base set up, the Wanderers look primed for top-four challenge in the season ahead.
NPL 2 NSW Men’s Expert Predictions
Justin Smith (NPL2 Writer 2021)
Top five: NWS Sprit, Central Coast Mariners, Northern Tigers, Western Sydney Wanderers, Blacktown Spartans.
Champions: Northern Tigers
Team to surprise: St George FA
Wooden Spoon: Mounties
Eric Subijano (NPL Commentator, NPL2 Writer 2020)
Top Five: Northern Tigers, NWS Spirit, Western Sydney Wanderers, Hills United, Central Coast Mariners
Champions: Northern Tigers
Team to surprise: Hills United
Wooden Spoon: Mounties
Pete Prior (NPL Commentator)
Top Five: Central Coast Mariners, Spirit FC, Northern Tigers, Blacktown Spartans, Western Sydney Wanderers (in no particular order).
Champions: NWS Spirit
Team to surprise: Blacktown Spartans
Wooden Spoon: St George FC
By Justin Smith (Twitter: @smiththejustin)