Five teams will play for the 2019 National Premier Leagues NSW Men’s 20s Championship, with almost no indication as to the way an unpredictable finals series will go. Four of those sides are in action on Saturday.
Sutherland play Rockdale with the chance to go through to face Blacktown City next Tuesday, while one of Sydney FC and APIA Leichhardt will play their last game of the season when they meet at Lambert Park.
Preliminary Semi Final: Sutherland Sharks v Rockdale City Suns, Saturday 10.30am at Sydney United Sports Centre
Sutherland and Rockdale met only a week ago at Ilinden Sports Centre; Rockdale going ahead through Jake Cakovski before being reined back in by a penalty from James Temelevski only ten minutes from time.
They played out a similarly tight match when they faced each other in May, too; Cakovski scoring the only goal of the game to secure a 1-0 win for Rockdale at Seymour Shaw in Round 11.
Both sides finished the regular season in top form, with neither having lost since the second week of June.
Since then, Sutherland have picked up 20 points in eight games to finish second, while Rockdale earned 18 points in the same space of time to ultimately finish just two points behind their preliminary semi final opponents.
With a place in the major semi final against Blacktown next Tuesday on the line – and with a second chance for the loser – both sides should feel free to play with the same attacking instincts that have served them so well all year. It promises to be a cracker.
Elimination Semi Final: APIA Leichhardt Tigers v Sydney FC, 1.30pm at Lambert Park
It’s all or nothing for APIA Leichhardt and Sydney FC when they come together for their elimination semi final at Lambert Park on Saturday afternoon.
These sides have met at this ground twice already this season, with each alternately winning in relative comfort.
The Sky Blues edged a 2-0 win in Leichhardt in May courtesy of goals from Tyson Wood and Patrick Savas, while the Tigers swept Sydney aside in a 3-0 win only a few weeks ago, with goals from Michael Trajkovski, Zeke Prisuda and Peter Nichols getting the job done for APIA.
That defeat was the last game Sydney FC played during the regular season, and the Sky Blues will be eager to make up for an embarrassing result at the hands of a close rival.
They smashed Sutherland Sharks in the first week of the finals last year, and could face another matchup against the Sharks next Thursday should they win at Lambert Park on Saturday afternoon.
APIA, meanwhile, make their first return to the finals since losing the 2017 Grand Final to Sutherland. They faced Sydney FC twice in that series, losing in the preliminary semi before beating the Sky Blues in the penultimate match of the season to go through to a decider against the Sharks.
They will be desperate to go one better this year but can’t afford to look too far ahead, with only one place in the next week of the finals for the two teams here.
-By Max Grieve