Sutherland Sharks will travel to Sydney Olympic in the first round of the new National Premier Leagues NSW Men’s U20s season as they look to go back-to-back again in 2019, while last year’s runners-up Sydney FC will be tested by a new-look Hakoah Sydney City East at Hensley Athletic Field.
Blacktown City face off against Mt Druitt as the Rangers bounce back into the competition, while Marconi Stallions are forced to wait a week before their season gets underway with opponents APIA Leichhardt away in Italy.
Match of the Round: Sydney Olympic v Sutherland Sharks, Sunday 1.45pm at Belmore Sports Park
Sydney Olympic begin their season at home to Sutherland Sharks; a fixture they lost 1-0 last season. Olympic have retained just over half of their 20s side from 2018, with a number of players moving up from the 18s to add to the triallists brought in by the club. Coach Jason Conroy says there’s a good balance among his squad, and after a “tremendous” preseason his team is looking forward to the challenge of another NPL campaign.
Sutherland Sharks are back for another year under Nick Dimovski, after taking out the championship on penalties against Sydney FC in 2018. Dimovski says there’s been a changing of the guard at the Sharks over the preseason, with a lot of players moving on because of age restrictions. Among the remaining players is Richie Stewart, who was one of Sharks’ best performers as they took out the competition last year. New signings include Alexander Lopez from Western Sydney Wanderers, and APIA sharpshooter Matthew Taverniti, who could form one of the competition’s more fearsome partnerships if they manage to click. Dimovski says his side are raring to go in Round 1, knowing how important it is to start the first four weeks of the new season with a run of good form.
Blacktown City v Mt Druitt Town Rangers, Sunday 1pm at Lily Homes Stadium
Blacktown City have brought in a few new players in 2019, including Daniel Colosimo from Spirit FC and Rhett De Silva from the Central Coast Mariners. Coach Andrew Montgomery says his side will include a number of players brought up from the 18s side, who he says have been really good in preseason and buying into the club’s philosophy well. There’s room for improvement at Lilys Homes Stadium this year, after Blacktown finished first in the 2018 regular season before crashing out of the finals series in the third week to champions Sutherland Sharks.
Blacktown will begin their season at home to the competition’s newest team, the promoted Mt Druitt Town Rangers. Mt Druitt’s Stamati Glaros says his side are relishing their ‘new kid on the block’ status, and says they’re looking to turn a few heads as they take to the NPL Men’s 20s competition. Glaros will welcome a few new faces to Mt Druitt this season, including Nikita Parkes from Marconi, and says his charges are excited for the new season after a productive preseason of gradual progression.
Wollongong Wolves v Manly United, 1pm at Albert Butler Memorial Park
Wollongong Wolves finished fifth in 2018, scraping into the finals ahead of Hakoah Sydney City East after an indifferent run of form at the end of the regular season. They were eliminated in the first week of the finals series, going down 3-0 to a Sydney United 58 side that finished just two points ahead of them on the ladder.
Their Round 1 match against Manly United is an opportunity for immediate improvement, after losing 1-0 to the visitors in this fixture last year. Adam Griffith is tasked with improving Manly’s fortunes in 2019, after a ninth-placed finish in the previous season. Manly struggled to get off the ground early in 2018, and will be looking to start the new year with a bang in order to avoid slipping out of finals contention before the business end of the season.
Hakoah Sydney City East v Sydney FC, 3pm at Hensley Athletic Field
Hakoah’s Neil Jablonski says his side’s “hectic” preseason has been more about recruitment than playing, with a sizable intake of new players arriving at the club over the past few months. Among them are Rockdale’s Ellis Bellos and Jay Hirschowitz, as well as Anthony Pedavoli from Sydney United 58. Jablonski says despite the upheaval, his side are showing positive signs ahead of the new season.
The team that finished sixth last season find themselves up against 2018’s runner’s up in Round 1; Sydney FC ending up second on the regular season table before losing out to Sutherland Sharks on penalties in the grand final. Sydney FC have lost Sam McIllhatton in midfield, but will be able to draw on a wealth of talent as they look to go one better in 2019. Hakoah won this fixture 3-2 the last time these two sides met at Hensley Athletic Field.
Sydney United 58 v Rockdale City Suns, 3pm at Sydney United Sports Centre
Sydney United 58 will be looking to build on an impressive 2018 season this year, following a fourth placed finish during the regular season and a run to the semi finals which ended in defeat against eventual champions Sutherland Sharks. They face a tricky first round fixture against last year’s wooden spooners Rockdale City Suns, who are set for a much improved 2019 after strengthening in preseason.
The Suns have kept two players from last season’s 20s squad while bringing eight up from the 18s, while coach Steve Zoric says there’ll be five new faces at the club this season. He says preseason has been very promising despite a few disappointing results due to heavy rotation, and says he expects Rockdale will be firing on all cylinders and ready to compete with the top sides once they get back into the groove of competition football.
APIA v Marconi Stallions, 7.30pm Wednesday 27th March at Lambert Park
APIA face a baptism of fire heading into 2019, with their involvement in the Viareggio Cup in Italy meaning they will have to play catch-up for the first few weeks of the new season. Their first match has been set back until March 27, at which point Lambert Park will get its first look at a number of new signings under coach Gerard Peacock. APIA have held onto a few players from last season, and have brought up a number of players from the 18s including Oscar Bernauer and Zeke Prisuda. Assistant coach Matthew Michael says the preseason has been good, with five games in Sydney before the squad made its way to Italy and the bulk of the team gelling well.
APIA’s Round 1 opponents are Marconi Stallions, who’ll get their season underway next week when they take on Rockdale. Coach Nahuel Arrarte says the Stallions will field a reasonably similar lineup to last year, with additions including Nick Fitzgerald from the Northern Tigers and Ashour Chiba from Central Coast Mariners. He says Marconi have been focussing on tweaking their style of play in the preseason, and have been working hard for when they take to the field in Round 2.
-By Max Grieve