Ask anyone associated with the League One Men’s competition in 2022 and they will tell you that this season is going to be a belter.
Once again there are 4 treasured promotion spots with 12 teams vying for them and where last year, the season became a top six race. Teams in 2022 are matched closer than before.
The likes of Bonnyrigg White Eagles, Hills United and SD Raiders have recruited well and on paper look the goods. While last year’s runaway leaders St George City have had to somehow replace the two Romero’s. Then there’s the usual suspects, Northern Tigers, NWS Spirit and the two A-League academies who many consider challenges. And who knows what to expect from Blacktown Spartans, Mounties Wanderers and St George FC?
I could write and I’m sure we could talk about it for days. But the time for talk and “on paper” speculation is over, let’s sort it out on the field!
Blacktown Spartans FC
March Fixtures: Northern Tigers (A), NWS Spirit (A), St George FC (A)
With a new coach, comes a change of identity and that’s exactly what has happened for Blacktown Spartans going into the new season.
Returning to the dugout for season 2022 is Andy Montgomery. Montgomery took the job mid-way through last season and was able to assess both the first-grade squad and youth prospects alike.
Objective wise, this looks to be a long-term project. Trying to develop a squad which can compete in a season or two, while also trying to find the next Lachlan Rose. And as such, the squad has seen a few changes. Dimitri Petratos, Richie Blanko, Andre Carle, Nikola Pintur and Mark Cindric have all left the club.
Replaced by the likes of Jack Hutchings and Paul Apostolopoulos who were promoted from their 20’s. While Thomas Bienasz and Andrew Holder have been brought in from Blacktown City and Marconi’s youth setups. But keep an eye out for more new faces once things kick off.
It’s the first full season of what looks like a multi-year project. With a talented squad, there’s no doubt this side has the ability to surprise teams throughout the season. But like last season, consistency could be a challenge.
Squad: Alex Gollan, Andrew Holder, Billy Patramanis, Bradley Whitworth, Christian Nascimben, Emilio Manos, Finley Hayhurst, Hugh Brown, Jack Hutchings, Jayden Barna, Joel Beattie, Justin Biega, Keith Buckley, Lord Darkoh, Mason Ireland, Nathaniel Owen, Paul Apostolopoulos, Suleyman Bangura, Thomas Bienasz, Trent Sierra, Zaine Owen.
Bonnyrigg White Eagles FC
March Fixtures: Mounties Wanderers (A), Central Coast Mariners (H), Hakoah FC (A).
Once again, Bonnyrigg White Eagles find themselves in a division in which they don’t feel they belong.
Tasked with the job of getting them out of it is Abbas Saad. Saad is certainly not a stranger to such pressure having managed Sydney Olympic and his pedigree speaks for itself. Having won both the premiership and championship in 2018. However, one is left to wonder how much a coaching change in the pre-season affects a squad?
When it comes to the squad, the club has said farewell to both James McKenzie and David Vrankovic who had both been at the club for many years. Joining them in the departure lounge were the likes of Hiyori Kawaguchi, Judah Cleur, Richie Darko and Stefan Giglio.
And to replace them, they have brought in the Rockdale duo of Amaury Gauthier and Zac Sfiligoi. Sean Eve (NWS), Brandon Stojcevski (St George FC) as well as Chris Fayers who joins from Maitland FC and a stint in Malaysia.
As always, expectations are high at Bonnyrigg, is this the year they take flight and return to their usual nest in the top tier?
Squad: Aaron Peterson, Andrija Mandic, Asmir Kadric, Brandon Stojcevski, Christopher Fayers, George Medojevic, Goran Subara, Jack Kuipers, James Chronopoulos, Jarrad Wiley, Joshua Karantz, Marie Gauthier, Michael Figueira, Mun-soo Gil, Nikola Krljar, Nikola Stegnjaic, Radovan Pavicevic, Raymond Miller, Samuel Gallaway, Sean Eve, Zac Sfiligoi.
Central Coast Mariners FC
March Fixtures: St George City (H), Bonnyrigg White Eagles (A), Mounties Wanderers (H)
There’s been changes aplenty at Central Coast Mariners with many of last year’s squad progressing into the A-league side.
Stepping in to replace Nick Montgomery as head coach is Andrew Christensen. Christiansen has a long history with Manly United, starting his coaching journey almost a decade ago. More recently however, he has been in the role of technical director at the Northern beaches club.
If there was a competition for the longest pre-season, the Mariners would be clear winners with the majority of the NPL squad training since last August to support the A-league side.
The squad is a mix of returning players and new faces alike, with the academy attracting plenty of interest from interstate players, a testimony to its success.
Brad Tapp, Cameron Windust, Dean Larson, Maksim Kasalovic, Michael Katsoulis and Sasha Kuzeski return from last season. And Josh Hong and Lachlan Bayliss step up from their 20’s side. While a total of nine players have joined the squad.
Sprinkle in some A-league scholarship players and the Pluim Park based side look in for another strong outing.
It’s hard not to be impressed by the progression of the Mariners academy. With an A league coach willing to give youth their chance, the competition for spots in this side can only be a good thing for the Mariners promotion hopes.
Squad: Bradley Tapp, Cameron Windust, Dean Larson, Dor Jok, Harry Talbot, Jackson Khoury, Jakob Cresnar, Jordan Segreto, Joshua Hong, Lachlan Bayliss, Lawrence Caruso, Maksim Kasalovic, Michael Katsoulis, Patrick Beach, Ricardo Rizzo, Sasha Kuzevski, Zac Zoricich.
March Fixtures: St George FC (A), Mounties Wanderers (A), Bonnyrigg White Eagles (H)
With a stable roster and some shrewd acquisitions, Hakoah FC look ready to mount a promotion challenge this campaign.
Head coach Luka Hrzina returns for his fourth season at the club having seen his side to a position on the brink of the top four when last season.
There have been significant changes at the club squad wise. With the off-season departures of two of the best young players in the league in Marco Arambasic and Zac Sapsford. As well as two other members of last season’s spine James Baldachino and Bruno Mendes.
Replacing them are Conor Early from Dunbar, Anthony Costa from Bonnyrigg, Steven Sohn from Northbridge, and George Firth Tuson from Mt Druitt. They will complement the existing squad led by captain Yianni Spyrakis.
Hrzina is also looking for the club to continue to produce young players naming Joe Ruddy in particular as one to watch out for.
Always there or thereabouts, Hakoah once again look set to compete for the promotion places. With Hensley being one of the toughest places to play in the league, one would suggest that it’s their away form which will decide where they will finish.
Squad: Anthony Costa, Connor Shaddock, Conor Earley, Daniel Alessi, Dominic Cox, George Tuson-Firth, Jacob Esposito, James Demetriou, Jordan Koton, Luiz Lobo, Mitchell Knight, Nikolas Loe, Paul Araullo, Ryan Blumberg, Steven Sohn, Yianni Spyrakis.
Hills United FC
March Fixtures: SD Raiders (H), Western Sydney Wanderers (A), Northern Tigers (H).
Having had a disappointing 2021, Hills United have made some big moves in hopes of a return to the top end of the FNSW League One standings.
Making his long-awaited return to the club is Brian “Bomber” Brown who returns to a coaching role for the first time since a stint at Mounties in 2019. With a full pre-season to work with, Brown has enacted changes and is pleased with how the squad is progressing.
Departing the club are the likes of club legend Greg Giovenali as well as Jarrod Dodds, Joel Tinkler and Alexander Vlismas.
While they have recruited some talented young players with a sprinkle of experience. Bringing in Tristan Van Rhoom (Hakoah), Ahmed Sweedan (NWS Spirit), Oliver Kovarik (Inner West Hawks), Alex Mansueto and Andre Takami. But they will not be the only new faces, as Bomber looks to take advantage of a quality 20’s side who were top of the standings when last season was brought to a premature close.
With a fresh-looking squad and a coach of proven quality leading the side. It’s hard not to be excited about Hills United this season.
Squad: Adolph Koudakpo, Adrian Neoklis, Ahmed Sweedan, Alexander Mansueto, Andre Takimi, Daine Merrin, Duncan Stewart, Eoin Montford, Glen Kelshaw, Jacob Basden, Jacob Vasiliou, Jared Rimmer, Jordan Parfait, Joshua De Rossi, Matteo Pandolfo, Oliver Kovarik, Rainer Smahel, Shaun Catlin, Stuart Gosling, Tristen Van Rhoon, Wade Giovenali.
Mounties Wanderers FC
March Fixtures: Bonnyrigg White Eagles (H), Hakoah FC (H), Central Coast Mariners (A).
The final product? After a couple of squad refreshes, Mounties Wanderers are looking more like the real deal in 2022.
It’s almost a surprise when a club holds on to a coach in this division. But that is the case for Mounties Wanderers who once again come into the season under the stewardship of Jerry Bilokapic and his assistants Nino Vidaic and Frank Mukeletic.
As part of the refresh, nine players have left the Cook Park based side including regulars Mark Moric, Gergis Abdalla and Christian Torelli.
In terms of retentions, Peter Pelekanos will captain the side and he will be joined by five others including Cole Mutton who impressed towards the end of last years “season”.
Replacing them, a few names stand out including Bruno Pivato (St George FC), Sam Perre and Nic Petrillo (Sutherland Sharks). This is where we’d usually list the other names new to the squad but there’s too many to list (14 overall), so check out the squad below.
There’s a lot still unknown about Mounties Wanderers. A round one meeting with local rivals Bonnyrigg looks to be a worthy season opener.
Squad: Anthony Windsor, Antonio Farkas, Asel Dehsabzi, Brad Bartels, Bruno Pivato, Cole Mutton, Daniel Sadaka, Dimos Vlachos, Franco Scarcella, Jack Edgington, Mathew Khalil, Matthew Self, Nic Petrillo, Omar Anwari, Peter Pelekanos, Sam Perre, Sebastian La Luz, Simon Monhem, Tony Spaseski, Zack Douglas.
Northern Tigers FC
March Fixtures: Blacktown Spartans (H), St George City (H), Hills United (A)
Along with Bonnyrigg White Eagles, Northern Tigers are a team who are consistently mentioned when the favourites for promotion are brought up.
And that should come as no surprise, the Tigers looking fit as ever while picking up some positive pre-season results. Once again leading the charge is coach Adam Hett who returns for his 4th season at North Turramurra.
So, what does he have to work with? Coming into the club are a quartet of signings. Jack Fulton and Liam Tachjian come in from neighbors Manly United, centre back Scott Browning joins from Sydney FC and fullback Hiyori Kawaguchi makes a cross-city switch from Bonnyrigg.
While the outgoings include Nic Kalergou, Sam Wilson, Jamie Glover and Kealey Adamson.
But it would be amiss to not mention the return of Ollie Wiggin who has recovered from a long-term injury after missing all last season. Add the likes of Joe Fox and Bailey Rule (Charlie Rule’s older brother) who joined without a pre-season with the squad last year, and you can see why they are confident.
Expectations are high going into the season in Sydney’s North. After three seasons of waiting, is this the year they roar into the top tier?
Squad: Alexander Brown, Bailey Rule, Dominion Nasrabadi, Elliot Carwardine, Hamish Mahon, Harry Gleeson, Hiyori Kawaguchi, Jack Fulton, Jamie Lobb, John Bachelard, Joseph Fox, Lachlan Hughes, Lachlan Lloyd, Lachlan Mcgrath, Liam Tachjian, Matin Abroon, Oliver Scott, Ollie Wiggin, Rhys Williams, Scott Browning, Shervin Keshavarz Adeli, William DiMartino.
NWS Spirit FC
March Fixtures: Western Sydney Wanderers (A), Blacktown Spartans (H), SD Raiders (A)
NWS Spirit FC will be hoping some smart recruitment and a few changes in the way they approach the season will pay off in 2022.
Yes, coach David Perkovic has tinkered things in pre-season, changing up the teams they have played in the pre-season which has stretched all the way back to early November. As a result, he feels his team is ready for the upcoming season, with his signings well and truly settled in before round one kicks off.
Arriving at Christie Park are Chris Marques who has had a previous stint at the club, Jake Mamone who comes in from Mt Druitt, Richie Darko from Bonnyrigg, Jordan Gomez from St George City and Jack Burtee from Manly. While the usual suspects of Grant Cornwell, Kota Odakura, Michael Konestabo, and others have been retained.
But they have also lost a lot of experience. With Pat Cappuchio and Aaron D’Mello retiring, Jack Greenwood joining Manly United, Ahmed Sweedan joining Hills United and Andy Robertson finding a new home at Melbourne Knights.
With teams looking for that extra 1% this season, will their extra work in pre-season pay off for NWS Spirit? Time will tell but we can expect them to be as competitive as ever.
Squad: Aidan Taouil, Blake Ilitch, Brian Jamba, Christopher Marques, Corey Kavanagh, Dominic Johns, Geoffrey Lino, Grant Cornwell, Jake Mamone, Jordan Gomez, Jose Gregorio Teal Meson, Kota Odakura, Louis Bozanic, Luke Cotten, Luke Okuda, Michael Konestabo, Mitchell Davidson, Musashi Kokubo, Richard Darko.
SD Raiders FC
March Fixture: Hills United (A), St George FC (H), NWS Spirit (H)
For the first time in a while. SD Raiders come into the season with a coach not by the name of Nick Carle. In probably the most unexpected coaching change in the league, they have a new head coach as they look to continue the clubs upward trajectory.
Switching the boots for a tactics board is club legend Goran Ljuboja who will be joined by James Raiti as his assistant. As such, pre-season has been a learning experience but his confident that his squad is ready for the season ahead.
Ljuboja has also put his own spin on thing implementing some changes on and off the field. Adrian Valiente, Simon Nicholas, Alex Malfara, Shaun Irwin, Lukman Ahmed-Saibu, and Matias Toro Suazo have all left the club.
In terms of signings, the acquisition of Jordan Figon stands out, the striker somewhat surprising the club with his willingness to join Ljuboja’s side. Elsewhere Mark Cindric, Paul Katsris, Cooper Hannagan, and James Alcon have also come into the squad.
With a focus on being a more balanced across the park and a squad with plenty of depth, Will SD Raiders be the surprise packets this year?
Squad: Anthony Proia, Charles Abou Serhal, Cooper Hanagan, Daniel Bittar, Daniel Marjanovic, Declan Cotter, Dylan Locaputo-Panagis, Edim Mesanovic, Franco Maya, Jack Koutrodimos, James Letta, James Markovic, Jordan Figon, Joshua Alcorn, Joshua Glasson, Mario Aleksik, Mark Cindric, Mathew Barkho, Milan Parenta, Noah Chianese, Paul Katsetis, Sebastian Malfara, Yonatan Sebhatu, Zander Regan.
St George City
March Fixtures: Central Coast Mariners (A), Northern Tigers (A), Western Sydney Wanderers (H)
The chaser becomes the chased. St George City were ruthlessly consistent last season with a five-point gap when last season was prematurely stopped. Now in 2022, people know what to expect, so can they back it up?
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Mirko Jurilj is to embark on another campaign. Particularly after last season or the two-thirds of last season had to go down as the clubs best yet.
But there’s a rather sizeable elephant in the room, and that elephant is who has left the club. Both Jason Romero (APIA) and Juan Carlos Romero (Spain) have left a big hole in their attack. While Dom Brischetto, Jordan Gomez, Ethan Dosanjh and Joshua Orchard have also said their goodbyes.
To fill the Romero hole in their squad. Reuben Awaritefe returns to the club from Western Sydney Wanderers and Mark Moric joins from Mounties. While Antonio Sarachino (Sydney FC), Nic Kalogerou (Northern Tigers), Alex Malfara (SD Raiders), Brendan Hooper and Evan Davis round out the signings.
Apart from those mentioned, expect names like Roberts, Morfitis, Ercan and others to feature throughout.
It’s been a particularly disruptive pre-season for St George City even by 2022 standards. But with a new home and a fair bit of stability in the squad, they’ll be tough to beat again this time round.
Squad: Alexander Malfara, Antonio Sarachino, Brendan Hooper, Christopher Arditti, Damian German, Evan Davis, George Salachoris, Jakub Prajza, Jordan Morfitis, Joshua Keremelevski, Mackenzie Syron, Mark Moric, Nathan Roberts, Nicholas Kalogerou, Paolo Mitry, Reuben Awaritefe, Stephen Athanaseris, Tarik Ercan, Troy Danaskos.
St George FC
March Fixtures: Hakoah FC (H), SD Raiders (A), Blacktown Spartans (H)
There’s never a dull pre-season at St George FC, and so it proved again with a coaching change in January. Nevertheless, the club now looks to be heading in the right direction approaching season 2022.
In perhaps the highest profile coaching change of the off season, former Socceroo skipper Mark Milligan was appointed as head coach back in January taking over from Greg King who took a job in Japan.
His focus since taking the job has been to implement a possession orienteered style in while the players can both develop and enjoy playing their football.
When asked who his planning to build his squad around, two names came to the forefront. Those names being Ryan Norval and Yu Hasegawa, the latter being a player Milligan played against. But they aren’t the only players who are new to the club with ten players brought into their first-grade squad. Including Cam Philpot from Fraser Park who this writer is excited about.
In the other direction it is easier to name who has stayed on at the club. Those being Anthony Morabito, Conor Quilligan, Angus Chance, and Jacob Bandur.
Since we last discussed St George FC, a lot of changes have been made. Much like the Spartans, this looks to be a longer-term project, but a few good results could change that.
Squad: Alexander Morabito, Andrew Di Blasio, Angus Chance, Anthony Morabito, Brian Sutomo, Cam Philpot, Conor Quilligan, Harry Jones, Isaac Danzo, Jacob Bandur, Jay Mcgowan, Jayden Anevski, Joseph Lameri, Luke Vlastelica, Richard Blanco, Ryan Norval, Yu Hasegawa
Western Sydney Wanderers FC
March Fixtures: NWS Spirit (H), Hills United (H), St George City (A)
Last season, Western Sydney Wanderers scored 25 goals. Of those 25 goals, three players scored 20 of them and those three have left.
Having had one of their oldest squads last seasons, the Wanderers have undergone plenty of change in the months since. One of which comes in the dugout, with the appointment of Tom Vidovic who has come back to the club after a season leading Sydney United.
So, about those three players. If you hadn’t guessed they were Kosta Grozos who now features for the Newcastle Jets A-league side, Reuben Awaritefe who joined St George City and Ali Auglah. While seven others also have left the club.
From last year’s squad the likes of Aiden Mostofi, Allesandro Lopane, Dean Pelekanos, Jarrod Carluccio and Nectarios Triantis return amongst others. With others like George Antonis, Connor Rose and Rhys Youlley trying to break into the squad.
After a late start to pre-season, the Wanderers have had some positive results. Will they be able to replicate last year’s success on the field? Time will tell.
Squad: Aiden Mostofi, Alessandro Lopane, Alex Bonetig, Alexander Badolato, Connor Rose, Daniel Wilmering, Dean Pelekanos, George Antonis, George Daniel, Gianni Di Pizio, Isaac Hovar, Jack Gibson, Jack Warshawsky, Jarrod Carluccio, Joel Bertolissio, Jonathan Maras, Jordan Swibel, Lochlan Constable, Mark Natta, Nectarios Triantis, Phillip Cancar, Rhys Youlley, Stevan Stanic-Floody
-By League One Men’s Chief Writer Justin Smith (Twitter: @smiththejustin)