Men’s Premier League Season Preview

Men’s Premier League Season Preview

Welcome to the 37th edition of the NSFA Men’s Premier League Competition. This year’s competition is set to be the most tightly contested title for many years, with multiple teams showing they are capable of knocking West Pymble FC off their perch. The league welcomes back Northbridge FC – the one new addition to those who competed in 2017, with Mt Colah FC taking its spot in the second division in the hope of returning to the top flight in 2019. The teams have spent the last few months preparing for Round 1 and must be excited to get 2018 underway. Let us take a closer look at how each may fare.

Chatswood Rangers

Home Ground: Chatswood High School
Coach: George Zoratto.
2017: 4th
PL Titles: 2
Round 1: (A) vs Willoughby Dalleys – 5pm.

So close – yet so far. Rangers were only 1 point behind the leaders after 9 Rounds in 2017 but fell away to finish 7 points adrift and in 4th place. A significant improvement on their performance in 2016, however, where the team finished 8th and just 2 points above relegation. The team takes on a familiar look with most of their strong performers back for another season. Long-time players Andrew Wardlaw, Andrew Zoratto, Tom Mackay and Oscar Merven will be there again. However, defenders across the league will be sleeping easier knowing they will not be facing one of the competitions deadliest strikers – Mitch Bath moving to Perth for work reasons. One player who will look to fill the hole, in a way, is midfielder Nick Swarts, who after missing 2017 through injury is fit and ready to go.

Rangers will be excited to call the new synthetic surface at Chatswood High School home and can look forward to transferring their generally strong home record from Castle Cove across the Pacific Highway. Rangers have perhaps been the underachievers in recent years, given their squad depth and the consistent performances of their reserve grade squad. However, one player who will look to emulate Mitch’s efforts in front of goal is young Alex Drake. Sources suggest he has hit the ground running and will use his pace to get in behind and have defenders on constant alert. The team’s pre-season form was up and down but their victory against The Entrance Bateau Bay FC in the FFA Cup will no doubt give them a major lift heading into the first game of the season. George is not afraid to say their goal is to improve on their 4th placed finish in 2017.

Major Ins: Nima Mirzarazi, Nick Swarts, Alex Drake.
Major Outs: Mitch Bath, Jonathan Green, Ryan Ormande-James.

Kissing Point FC

Home Ground: Auluba Oval
Coach: Tom McKnight/Clive Wells.
PL Titles: 6
2017: 5th
Round 1: (H) vs Lane Cove 3pm.

Goals, goals, goals. That is what the Kissing Point Coaches and their supporters will be asking for in 2018. Thirty (30) is all they managed across their 18 league games last year and without putting the blame on one man’s shoulders, perennial goal machine Peter Blakeley had a quiet season – only hitting the back of the net on 4 occasions. Having finished as Runners-Up in 2014 and 2015, followed by a 4th and 5th place finish in the last two years respectively, the boys from South Turramurra will be keen to stop their descent down the table. The team have been working hard in pre-season and their tough pre-season games against quality teams will hold them in good stead.

They will no doubt blood some of their exciting U18’s players who took home the Division 1 Premiership by a whopping 14 points in 2017. They will need to learn about Premier League life quickly if ‘Kisso’ are to make their mark this year but youthful exuberance can often bring a breath of fresh air to the entire squad. That might just be the recipe they need for an improved season. New coaching pair of Tom McKnight and Clive Wells have been pushing the boys hard and believe Zac Holland, Lachlan Martin, Peter Blakeley and Sean Connell are the danger men for opposition sides. With this newfound depth and quality, the club believe they can challenge for the title in 2018 – an ambitious but enviable goal to have. The club would like to invite every team that plays at Auluba to join them in the clubhouse for a drink after the game. A very generous offer indeed.

Major Ins: Lachlan Martin, Sean Connell, Ben Kirley.
Major Outs: None.

Knox United FC

Home Ground: Koola Park
Coach: Vince Cali
PL Titles: 0
2017: 7th
Round 1: (A) vs Lindfield FC – 3pm.

Consolidation. This tends to be the word thrown around by newly promoted clubs and Knox were no different in ‘16 and ‘17. Now entering their third consecutive year at this level (in their latest stint), perhaps a more adventurous objective can be set? The team has developed under the tutelage of the experienced Vince Cali, yet the only tangible evidence of this progress was their improved defensive record; 33 goals against last season versus 40 from the year previous. A man who was crucial to that achievement is David Guthrie and he will look to be a defensive rock once again. Returning players Nick Bozic and Scott Chappel will further assist in keeping things tight defensively but where will the goals come from? That, perhaps, should be the area of focus.

Other notable performers in recent seasons are the two Alex’s (Denning and Buddle), plus the busy Tom Radcliff – who has scored a few important goals in that time. A big coup for the club is the acquisition of former Northern Tigers players Ollie Stickland, Paul Turrin and ex Dulwich Hill player Callaghan Sharpe, the latter joining his twin brother Alex in the squad. There seems to be some decent momentum with this team but if they are to finish above 7th they will need to urgently address their abysmal away record. In 2017, Knox accrued just 5 points away from home, scoring 7 goals in those 9 away matches. There is an air of confidence ahead of the new season as unlike most other teams, Knox have tipped themselves as 2018 Premiers. It will be interesting to see how this season plays out for Knox United.

Major Ins: Oliver Stickland, Callaghan Sharpe, Paul Turrin, Nick Bozic, Scott Chappel.
Major Outs: None.

Lane Cove FC

Home Ground: Blackman Park
Coach: Paul Turnell
PL Titles: 0
2017: 9th
Round 1: (A) vs Kissing Point FC – 3pm.

Since their return to the Premier League in 2014 the boys from Blackman Park have finished 8th, 7th, 7th and 9th respectively. There have been highlights during this time including former striker Robbie Kerr’s goal-scoring achievements, their start to the 2016 season where they were 1 point from top spot at the halfway mark and the emergence of consistent performers such as Jamie Morriss, Matt Hanna and Wade Perram. However, these highlights mean little in terms of outcomes and with Robbie now in the red and white stripes of Northbridge FC, the players who remain need to step up.

However, new Coach Paul Turnell has sourced some experience from abroad and with a couple of shrewd signings, perhaps there are brighter times ahead for LCFC. Their pre-season form suggests the new approach Paul has instructed his team to take is the right one, beating Pittwater 3-0 and Locomotive Cove 2-1. With an improved showing over the next season or two, the team hopes to attract new talent and develop into a genuine powerhouse within 3 years and has told the rest of the competition to watch out, Lane Cove are here.

Major Ins: None provided.
Major Outs: None.

Lindfield FC

Home Ground: Charles Bean Oval
Coach: Luke Harris
PL Titles: 2
2017: 2nd
Round 1: (H) vs Knox United FC – 3pm.

Since re-entering the Premier League Competition in 2006 Lindfield FC have established themselves as a competition heavyweight. Never finishing below fifth in that time is evidence of that. Their two league titles arrived in 2008 and 2013, so they will be hoping it is ‘their turn’ again in 2018. Squad depth has been the key ingredient to their success and if they are to be competitive again this year, their entire roster will have to contribute. The team will take on a very new look this season with established players Josh and Justin Ciabatti moving on to pastures new. Perhaps the biggest loss will be influential captain Agneesh Lahiri, who has moved for work reasons. It will be interesting to see the impact that a change at the helm after 8 years has on the squad. Luke Harris who guided the Reserves to the Premiership last season has replaced Brendan Dalton. But, if there was ever a club who could recover from such an exodus it is Lindfield FC. Let’s be honest, the “LFC Club Gaffer” David Hurwitz won’t let it happen any other way!

The club have moved quickly to add experience to their setup in former Socceroo, Glasgow Rangers and Chelsea striker David Mitchell. Whilst Dave will not be strapping on the boots this season he will assist Luke in developing the next crop of Premier League stars. Lindfield have performed well during pre-season, beating CC Strikers 5-2 and seizing a 2-2 draw with Mosman FC. Their brightest player so far has been Nathan Murray – a player who has shown promise for many seasons and has undeniable talent flowing through his veins. The question has always been whether he can apply himself for a full 90 minutes, for 18 Rounds? Perhaps Mitchell’s presence can get the best out of the boy with the blonde fro and make him a leader of men.

Like a few of their NSFA opponents, LFC entered the FFA Cup and were unlucky to draw NPL3 side Western Mariners. The team took a mixed side up to Bathurst and were more than gallant in defeat, losing 3-1 in extra time.

Major Ins: Mitchell Stark (returns), Daniel Stern, Tom Goulding (returns), Tom Colfer.
Major Outs: Agneesh Lahiri, Josh Ciabatti, Justin Ciabatti, Blake Cameron, Henry Gallagher.

Northbridge FC

Home Ground: Northbridge Oval
Coach: Tom Sweeney/Jamie Collins
PL Titles: 0
2017: 1st (MAA2)
Round 1: (H) vs North Sydney United FC – 5pm.

We welcome back Northbridge FC to the Premier League competition for 2018. Last year was a successful one for the club where they easily won Division 2 and more impressively lifted the State Cup trophy beating Lilli Pilli in the Final. The squad is once again under the watchful eye of Jamie Collins with the added UK Manager style involvement of Tom Sweeney. Having been relegated from the league in 2016 they will be keen to make amends for their disappointing showing in that season. All signs point towards them being able to achieve something this year and a few astute signings should enable them to cause a few upsets. Should the team get off to a good start, there is no reason why they cannot push for a top 4 finish as they, like Lindfield FC, possess incredible squad depth. Goals were certainly not an issue last season with 85 goals scored and their defence did not give much away either, just 17 conceded.

However, the NSFA PL comp is a step up from the second division so Tom and Jamie will have to make sure the boys are ready right from the start. The acquisition of former Golden Boot winner Robert Kerr (previously of Lane Cove) will add further impetus to their already stacked forward line. Their pre-season form has been patchy whilst they settle on a system that best suits their strengths. Wins against Pittwater RSL, Seaforth and Phoenix (ESFA) have given the squad confidence. The addition of experienced campaigners in the last 12 months is what has taken this side to another level. It could well prove telling in how much they are able to push front-runners West Pymble FC this season. The only major concern will be how they manage the squad with so many players capable of playing First Grade and only 16 allowed on the match card.

Major Ins: Brad Ryan, Robbie Kerr, Jason Lal (returns), Matt Lee.
Major Outs: None.

North Sydney United FC

Home Ground: Cammeray Oval
Coach: Joe Liddle
PL Titles: 2
2017: 3rd
Round 1: (A) vs Northbridge FC – 5pm.

As with many other teams in the league, there has been some kind of turnover of players during the off-season. Losing the popular Matt Fisher is perhaps the biggest name, however, their British born coach Joe Liddle has recruited a couple of new faces and with a number of their U21 Champion of Champions winning team from 2016 now making a first team spot their own, Joe feels they are well placed to challenge for the title once again. Joe indicates that improving their record on grass fields, as well as points accrued in games against teams in and around the top 4 as two key elements to success. I have previously highlighted this same fact – so Joe certainly knows what they need to improve on. A good first step.

Striker Alex Moth was just one goal behind the Golden Boot winner last season and will don the red and black jersey once more, with Martin Wood, who joins from NPL side Dunbar Rovers, ably supporting him in the front third. Centre-back pairing Kirk Emans and Captain Adam Parsons have returned to provide the steel required to compete at this level. Pre-season victories against Gladesville Ravens and Mosman (in a five-goal thriller), will have the team thinking they can maintain their usually strong performance in the NSFA competition. Their impressive FFA CUP run started with a resounding 5-1 victory against Parklea and they followed this up with another solid result against Pendle Hill, winning 4-2. Alex Moth scoring a double in that match – signalling his intent for the upcoming NSFA season. They now meet NPL2 opposition in the form of St George FC, in Round 4.

Major Ins: Martin Wood
Major Outs: Matt Fisher

Old Barker FC

Home Ground: Koola Park
Coach: Jim Harte
PL Titles: 0
2017: 6th
Round 1: (A) vs West Pymble – 7pm.

In their latest spell at Premier League level, Old Barker enter their fourth consecutive season with a relatively settled lineup. Having finished 8th, 5th and 6th in their last three seasons respectively, there is a thought that they should know what to expect and deliver on some of the potential shown in recent times. They have what it takes to worry the big teams and victories over West Pymble FC and Chatswood Rangers last season, as well as taking points off North Sydney United should give them the boost needed to crack the ‘top 4’. They will be hoping the reliable pairing of Matt Vickers and Ned Robinson start well and lead by example, allowing the pace of youngsters Sam Malone and Cal McIntyre to trouble opposition defences. Gohto Saikawa has proven to be a handy player over the past couple of years and he will continue his solid partnership with Mike Evrat in the middle of the park.

All of a sudden, it looks like Old Barker have a team capable of worrying their opposition each week. Whilst cliché or obvious, the key to their success lies in the ability to finish the season with a positive goal difference. Only once in the last 3 seasons have they done that and no surprises it coincided with their highest placing on the ladder. Their pre-season results so far have seen them win against Mosman and Gosford City, with a loss against Wakehurst the only blemish. Could this be the year the boys from Barker give the competition a real shake?

Major Ins: Harry Grant.
Major Outs: None.

West Pymble FC

Home Ground: Norman Griffiths Oval
Coach: Greg Fuchs
PL Titles: 8
2017: 1st
Round 1: (H) vs Old Barker FC – 7pm.

They did it again! West Pymble took out their third title in a row last season and with Coach Greg Fuchs at the helm once again, there is no sign of them slowing down. It was a much smaller margin in ’17 with the boys from ‘NG’ finishing just 1 point ahead of Lindfield in 2nd. Compare that to an 8-point gap the year before and 5 points the year before that, maybe the chasing pack are getting closer? The aim this year is to have each individual accountable and contributing, rather than relying on one or two players to grab the headlines. A player that has contributed more than his fair share in recent seasons is Rob Tall, who finished runner-up in the MVP award last year. Perhaps a new position could take him to even greater heights. Competition beware!

Seb Bendall and Matt Laming were the ones to watch in front of goal last year, scoring 11 goals apiece. The loss of midfield beast Eti Amegor could be a telling blow, but Fuchs has adjusted his side accordingly and has a surprise or two up his sleeve. They travelled north to participate in the annual Nambucca tournament but the team who usually walk away with the trophy were unable to emulate that achievement this year. The squad seems to be trying to fly under the radar a bit, keeping their cards close to their chest, hoping to be unnoticed. Should they get off to a flyer (they won the corresponding fixture against Barker in Round 1 last year by 6 goals to 1), the competition will certainly be reminded of who rules the roost. A recent 4-2 lost against GHFA powerhouse Pennant Hills won’t do their confidence any harm as there were some notable performers in that match, particularly Jack Gilbert in midfield.

Major Ins: Charlie Cox, Eddie Davila.
Major Outs: Eti Amegor, Michael Reece.

Willoughby Dalleys FC

Home Ground: Willoughby Park
Coach: Adam Vlatko/Chris Cowley.
PL Titles: 1
2017: 8th
Round 1: (H) vs Chatswood Rangers – 5pm.

Dalleys marked their return to the Premier League with a less than remarkable season in 2017 but the important thing is that they maintained their position in the league for another year. They were competitive in the majority of their games and finished the season with a reasonable goal difference of minus 6 (given their ladder position). A couple of big wins and worryingly a couple of heavy losses, including a 7-0 drubbing at the hands of North Sydney in Round 9 contributing to this figure. Their most notable result during this year’s pre-season was their 2-1 victory over Brookvale but perhaps the most exciting news is the addition of former A-League Champion and current Sydney FC Assistant Coach Steve ‘Bimbi’ Corica to their roster. Just over 12 years ago, Corica scored the winning goal in the maiden A-League Grand Final. Whilst his professional playing days are over there is no doubt he will be able to contribute to the team’s success this season.

A few of the longer serving players have transitioned into the O35’s but some young talent has joined the squad, one of those being former NPL player James Morrison. A key returning player is the consistent and versatile Chad Cowley who will once again lead the team. Another Cowley who hopes he can have a positive influence (for the second time) is Coach Chris, who led the club to their 2014 Premiership Title. His partnership with Dalleys legend Adam Vltako could be the catalyst for a successful season. The club have targeted a top 4 finis h and believe Northbridge and West Pymble will be fighting it out for top spot. As always we look forward to the match between Dalleys and Rangers in Round 10, where they will play for the Jim McBreen Cup at Chatswood Oval.

Major Ins: Steve Corica, James Morrison.
Major Outs: None.

Written by Paul Orgad.

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