The 2016 PlayStation®4 National Premier Leagues NSW Men’s U20 season begins on Saturday.
So often the breeding ground of future NPL talent, the 20s sides return to action this weekend with 12 clubs facing off over the course of 22 fiercely competitive rounds.
Blacktown City kick off their defence of both premiership and championship titles against Sydney United 58, whilst newly promoted Hakoah Sydney City East travel to Wollongong in a raft of mouth-watering opening round fixtures.
Match of the Round
Blacktown Spartans FC v Parramatta FC, 5pm at Blacktown Football Park
The 2016 PlayStation 4 NPL NSW Men’s U20 season gets underway at Blacktown Football Park where Blacktown Spartans host Parramatta FC in a late-afternoon kick-off. After a disappointing 2015 campaign in which Spartans finished 10th, the side will look to enter the new season in far greater nature than the last, when they were humbled 9-1 in last season’s curtain raiser at Seymour Shaw.
Meanwhile, the Mark Zecchin-coached Parramatta FC will be itching to improve on last season’s sixth placed finish that saw the Eagles narrowly miss out on a finals berth following their promotion from the second division.
Zecchin’s Eagles were unbeaten against Blacktown Spartans last season, leaving Blacktown Football Park victorious in April and earning a 1-1 stalemate at Melita Stadium in August.
Manly United FC v Sutherland Sharks FC, 12pm at Cromer Park
It’s a big season for Allan Edmonson’s Sutherland Sharks, who finished third in the regular 2015 season before their eventual elimination at the hands of Sydney Olympic in the minor semi-final.
Manly United on the other hand – premiership winners in 2014 – were unable to back up their 2014 success, eventually settling for a mid-table finish in 2015.
The two sides shared the spoils in a 1-1 draw at Cromer Park in May of the 2015 season, but Sutherland were comprehensive winners in their 3-0 victory in Round 19, a clash that put a significant dent in Manly’s faltering finals hopes.
Blacktown City FC v Sydney United 58 FC, 1pm at Lilys Football Centre
Blacktown City took out both premiership and championship titles in 2015 and coincidentally they begin their defence of both trophies against a Sydney United 58 side who stunned the would-be champions 5-2 on the opening round of the 2015 season.
Former United starlet Kyle Cimenti netted on that day and finished as the club’s top goalscorer with 16 before his eventual move to the Western Sydney Wanderers. If the side are to better their semi-final exit at the hands of rivals Olympic last season, they will once again turn to youth in a campaign that looks well-placed for a finals finish.
APIA Leichhardt Tigers FC v Sydney Olympic FC, 1pm at Lambert Park
Having lost the 2015 preliminary final to Marconi, Sydney Olympic will hope they can improve on their impressive fourth-placed finish last campaign, starting with a victory away to APIA Leichhardt. Olympic have endured a mixed pre-season coupled with defeats to Blacktown City and Wollongong but a narrow victory over Blacktown Spartans.
After finishing third and losing in the grand final for consecutive seasons, APIA Leichhardt’s ninth-placed finish last campaign was something of an underachievement from one the league’s perennial challengers, underpinned by their 4-1 loss suffered at the hands of Olympic last campaign in July of last season.
Rockdale City Suns FC v Bonnyrigg White Eagles FC, 3pm at Ilinden Sports Centre
The two cellar-dwellers from last season will look to begin the new campaign on the right note as Rockdale City Suns host Bonnyrigg White Eagles.
Only goal difference separated the two sides on the table last season, with Rockdale consigning Bonnyrigg to the wooden spoon in the final round of the season courtesy of a 3-0 victory at Ilinden Sports Centre.
Rockdale City Suns claimed the scalp of Blacktown City in pre-season in a result sure to bring about a renewed sense of confidence as they look to avenge last campaign’s 11th placed finish, whilst Bonnyrigg know a positive result on Sunday will go some way into alleviating the woes of last campaign.
Wollongong Wolves FC v Hakoah Sydney City East FC, 3pm at WIN Stadium
Hakoah Sydney City East finished runners up behind Central Coast FC in the PS4 NPL 2 Men’s U20 competition last season and will look make the perfect start to life in the NPL 1 when they take on Wollongong Wolves.
The Les Paikin-managed side have shown they will be able to mix it with the elite in pre-season, beating Southern Districts 2-0, Parramatta FC 2-1, and salvaging draws with Manly United and their upcoming opponents Hakoah in January.
Meanwhile the Wolves have enjoyed the ideal preparation for the upcoming campaign, enjoying friendly victories over Bonnyrigg, Sutherland, Sydney Olympic as they look to improve on 2015’s eighth placed finish.
-By Jacob Windon