It has been an up and down campaign for Panny Nikas and the Rockdale City Suns, but with two rounds to play they are still within striking distance of the National Premier Leagues NSW Finals Series.
Nikas, who has been one of the NPL’s standout performers for some time now, made a well-publicised shift from Sydney United 58 to the Suns prior to the campaign.
But 2019 has been far from straightforward for Rockdale, who after a slow start to the season parted ways with manager Paul Reid.
They then embarked on a hot streak which catapulted them up to second, before another form slump has seen them drop to eighth, with just an outside shot at making the competition’s top five.
Nikas himself has endured a rocky run with injuries this campaign, being restricted to only eight appearances for his new club, during which he has registered two goals.
While he remains on the road to full fitness, the dynamic midfielder is enjoying his new surroundings.
“I had severe bone bruising to my metatarsal that put me out for a prolonged period and I also did my MCL on my other knee which was similar to what I’d done last year,” the 31-year-old recalled.
“So I’m not yet back to 100% fitness but I’ve been working well to get close to around 70-80% at the moment.
“It’s been an up and down year, as you can see, but I think when I’ve played, both in the Cup and on the weekend in NPL fixtures, I’ve contributed and done my best.
“In terms of the playing group I’ve made some good friends on and off the field, so it’s been an enjoyable year off the park.
“On the park, it’s been inconsistent.”
Sunday afternoon saw the Suns claim their first scalp in six outings at Cromer Park with a clinical 2-0 triumph over Manly United.
Nikas, who returned from a two-month absence with a goal against Blacktown City a week earlier, was pleased with the outcome.
“It was a good result and I think it was one of our better performances as a collective unit,” he reflected.
“Especially going away to Manly which is always a tough game.
“We’ve been working hard for a couple of weeks with the introduction of our new coach, so I think everything showed during that game.”
Despite Rockdale’s overall lack of rhythm, their victory at Cromer has them sitting just three points astray of fifth-placed Marconi heading into the penultimate round of the season.
However with the Suns boasting an undesirable goal difference tally, and both Sydney Olympic and Manly sitting equal with them on 26 points, it is likely that no less than six more points will do if they wish to have a shot at participating in the finals.
The first outfit standing in their way are the Premiership-chasing Wollongong Wolves.
Prior to last weekend, the Suns were the only side to have kept Wollongong’s firing attack scoreless, in their 1-0 triumph back in Round 10.
And after Luke Wilkshire’s men suffered a rare defeat at the hands of Blacktown, all of a sudden Rockdale have all the momentum heading into this must-win fixture.
Last weekend’s confidence-boosting result has left Nikas upbeat about Rockdale’s potential to spoil the Wolves’ party yet again.
While the prospect of scraping into the top five is something the Suns squad have not yet given up on, the creative midfielder is well aware his side will need to be back at their best if this is to occur.
“It’s realistic because it’s possible,” Nikas declared.
“We’re just focusing on ourselves.
“We’ve been one of the few teams to beat Wollongong, so that’s a positive from our end and I think they’ll face a different Rockdale this week.
“I’m sure they’ll be ready for the fixture as we will be, whoever produces the goods on Sunday will hopefully get the victory.
“As long as I’m doing my job while trying to be a leader on the pitch for the rest of the boys, I’m pretty sure that’ll be a positive contribution.”
Rockdale lock horns with Wollongong at Ilinden Sports Centre on Sunday afternoon, before hosting the Sutherland Sharks on the final day of the season.
By National Premier Leagues NSW Men’s Reporter Chris Curulli (Twitter handle @ChrisCurulli)