We are now just days away from the start of what promises to be one of the most unpredictable and entertaining seasons of National Premier League Men’s 4 on record.
With a full competition of 12 teams there is no more byes, meaning teams will play consecutively for the next 22 rounds, all with the same hopes and ambitions.
Let’s have a look at the opening weekend of action which includes a battle from last years top four with Hawkesbury Hawks taking on Nepean FC, Premiership favourites Newcastle Jets going against a new look South Coast Flame and finally seeing the defending Premier Fraser Park locking horns with Prospect United.
Friday 5th March 2021
Match of the round: Hawkesbury City FC vs Nepean FC, 8pm @ David Bertenshaw Field
In a rematch of last year’s opening round these two clubs will look to repeat on last season’s success which saw them finish 4th and 3rd respectively.
Hawkesbury’s young squad enters this season a more experienced and deeper team and hopes to get the season off on the right foot in a game that could allow them to show the improvements they’ve made over the off-season. Dean Bertenshaw may look to his new key recruits Michael Streeter and Kieran Pace to add some experience to his side, alternatively he could also look to his younger recruits Mattia Mannolio and Anthony Pedavoli in order to help push his side over the edge.
For Nepean pre-season injuries and player retirements have been a cause of stress for Joe Di Meglio, however an impressive offseason of recruiting and keeping some of his key first team members should mean they come into this clash as favourites. Last season’s league leading scorer Mitchell McLintock is expected to have another big season leading the line up top and will be looking to get off to a good start come Friday night.
In their only meeting last season in Round 1 Nepean walked away 2-1 victors with McLintock bagging a double.
Saturday 6th March 2021
Parramatta FC vs Camden Tigers, 5pm @ Melta Stadium
Parramatta overhauled the majority of their playing roster during the off-season with hopes of making a big run for the finals this season. With just over 50% of the squad being new recruits, chemistry may be an issue in the opening rounds, however they are confident that new boys Jayden Young, Usher Chaliba and Diego Molina can all be impactful in their potential debuts, which can lead Parramatta to a promising season.
Camden enters this match re-united with former Head Coach Dean Bradley, he has shown faith in last year’s squad retaining the majority of the players and hopes that he will see a big impact from Blake Booker and Captain Callum Rodgers.
Both sides finished last season with an equal record of 3 wins 2 draws and 5 losses seeing them both finish in the bottom half of the table, in their lone meeting last year Parramatta came away with a 2-1 victory at home.
South Coast Flame vs Newcastle Jets, 6pm @ Ian McLenan Park
The Flame is set to be lit for 2021 as the new competition heavyweights Newcastle head down south.
A new look South Coast squad is hoping to pull off a Round 1 upset in-front of their home crowd at Ian McLennan Park on Saturday. George Kulscar looks set to debut young and exciting keeper Nicholas Armand, whilst Matthew Mazevski marks his first game as captain.
Newcastle are looking to assert their dominance early and make some noise at the Flame’s expense, Daniel McBreen is ready to let the youth of the Hunter takeover, a lot of eyes are on youngster Adam Zervas who could push for an A-League debut if he can set the league alight in the early stages of this season.
Due to the Jets one-season stand in NPL 2 these sides didn’t meet last season.
Fraser Park vs Prospect United SC, 7pm @ Fraser Park
Fraser Park enter this matchup overwhelming favourites with an incredibly talented squad featuring the likes of, Cam Philpot, Shu Torihara and French import star Alexis Wenzel. Coach Alex Araujo will likely field a similar squad that went undefeated during the 2020 regular season and hopes to set the standard for the rest of the season in Round 1.
Prospect will be dreaming of a miracle win over the reigning premiers come Saturday, Prospect will be keen on converting on their chances, crucial to that will be new recruits Jayden Nikahul and Henry Yau, this was an issue for them last season as they led the league in draws (6) resulting in a disappointing 10th placed finish.
Last season’s only fixture between the two saw Prospect becoming just one of 3 teams to take points off the premiers in a 2-2 draw which saw both sides receiving a red card.
Hurstville FC vs UNSW FC, 7pm @ Rockdale Ilnden Sports Centre
Hurstville’s 5th place finish last season left them much to ponder over, resulting in Coach John Gagro pushing his men to their limits in pre-season to make sure they don’t miss the final again in 2021. New signing Michael Rutherford is set to start between the sticks, whilst Paul Gagro is back to lead his side in attack.
UNSW head into Saturday’s clash slight favourites, a relatively unchanged team from last season but are without 2020 first team regulars Des Ford and Peter Prandalos, Maison McGeehan is back for UNSW and looks to repeat his scoring efforts from 2020.
The last time these sides met UNSW defeated an eventual 9-man Hurstville 4-0 with two goals from McGeehan.
Sunday 7th March 2020
Western Rage vs Western NSW, 6pm @ Valentine Sports Park
The new Western Derby is set debut in the final game of Round 1.
Western Rage enter the opening weekend with a nearly completely new squad looking to re-write last season’s wooden spoon finish, similar to Parramatta, the Rage may struggle with team chemistry early due to the shortened off-season and will look to experienced players like George Issa and Declan Monro to lead the squad into 2021.
Western NSW had a relatively successful season, however like their Sunday night opponents they have made mass changes to the squad letting 9 players go. Mark Rooke may look to his promoted youth players to lead the way in this game or may look to key recruits Tatsuya Sato & Volkan Gudgen.
In the previous meeting between the two, Granville came away with their lone win of last season winning 3-2 after two goals from defender Dean Rassios.
-Written by NPL 4 Men’s Writer Dominic Criniti