After 12 weeks, the National Premier Leagues NSW Men’s competition all comes down to this. The Big dance. The decider. The grand final.
The biggest game of the season has arrived to decide the season’s biggest prize with two fierce rivals in Rockdale Ilinden FC and Sydney United 58 going head to head for championship glory.
Rockdale Ilinden FC have qualified for the club’s first grand final in seven season’s and will look to clinch the championship and premiership double when they take on a United 58 team returning for their second decider in as many seasons.
It was a historic season for Rockdale as they finished the season in first place to end a 51-year wait for a premiership title, while United 58 finished the year in third before stunning second-place Wolves last week to earn their place in the grand final.
Both teams have been in top form for the majority of the 11-week reboot season with each side coming back stronger after the enforced 20 week COVID shutdown.
Neither Rockdale or Sydney United has tasted grand final success this decade with United 58’s last win coming 14 years ago when they defeated Blacktown City in 2006.
For Rockdale, the wait has been even longer with the Ilinden Sports Centre based outfit last winning the championship in 1984.
It has been a very different path to Marconi Stadium for Rockdale and United 58.
Ilinden turned on a masterclass in both attack and defence to easily account for the high-powered offence of Sydney Olympic with a 3-0 drubbing at Ilinden Sports Centre
Goals to Mickey Neill, Tomoki Wada and Jaden Casella was the difference as the Steven Zoric coached outfit carried on from where they left off in the regular season to secure their place in the final.
It was a win which Zoric said was the culmination of a season built on hard work
“The semi-final win against Sydney Olympic was the perfect showcase of what this team can do,” he said.
“Olympic expected us to play it safe and try to stifle their attack but we took the game to them from the opening whistle and showed we can take it to any team in this competition.
“This grand final means everything to this club and I know the boys are ready to give their biggest performance of the year to bring the trophy home.”
United 58 had a more dramatic path with a 3-1 win against Wollongong Wolves in a match which included both team’s playing more than a half of football a man down after an all-in brawl that led to two straight red cards.
As a result the Red’s will be without their superstar striker Patrick Antelmi for Sunday’s clash as he serves his suspension for being sent off.
Coach Anthony Crea praised his side’s resilience after they battled their way to victory despite testing circumstances.
“No matter what was thrown at the boys they had an answer for it. They kept their composure when the pressure was on and found a way to win against tough opposition,” he said.
“Yes, Patrick has been a big part of our attack this season but our success was more than just one player and we will prove that again.
“This group of players know what it takes to win these big games and they’re determined to make the most of their opportunity.”
On the park both teams are bristling with talent.
Rockdale is packed with talent on every line with their team unity and balance across the park one of their biggest strengths.
The Ilinden midfield is the powerhouse which drives the team with Japanese import Tomoki Wada at the centre of everything they do.
Coach Steven Zoric has helped mould the side’s defence into a miserly unit which gives very little away. Captain Daniel Petkovski alongside Banri Kanaizumi marshall the centre of the backline with authority and will be a tough unit to break down.
The transformation of Mickey Neill from defender to goalscoring winger has been another Zoric masterstroke with the talented wide man playing a pivotal role in his side’s attack.
And the ace in the hand is Rockdale’s talismanic striker Alec Urosevski who would have to be the most talented super-sub to play in an NPL NSW grand final. His involvement off the bench could very well decide the match.
United 58 are not short on talent themselves.
The midfield is where the Red’s shine with Yianni Perkatis, Glen Trifiro, Devante Clut and Anthony Tomelic all boasting their own unique skillsets which when combined can dominate the opposition.
Veteran wide man Matt Sim gets better with age and continues to leave defenders struggling to stop his mazy dribbling and savvy runs into the box.
The absence of Antlemi creates the biggest selection headache facing coach Anthony Crea. Who will replace the man responsible for nearly 50 per cent of the team’s goalscoring output in the regular season?
This game presents a number of key matchups which will surely play a big part in deciding who will be triumphant at the final whistle.
Will Rockdale’s lack of big-game experience come back to hurt them against a United 58 team which has been a regular fixture at this point of the season?
Will United 58 suffer the grand final yips yet again or can they end their streak of six defeats from their past six grand final appearances?
Can Anthony Crea find a way to fill the absence of Antelmi and keep the United 58 attack firing on all cylinders?
Rockdale and Sydney United have faced off only one other time this season with the boys from Ilinden fighting back from 2-0 down to snatch a 2-2 draw.
It was a result which proved vital in their successful premiership title chase, while also scuppering United’ 58’s in the process
United 58 have proven they fear nobody and have the ability to beat anyone on the day. However, will they have enough left in the tank to beat premiers Rockdale Ilinden FC in the biggest match of the season?
Whatever the outcome, one thing for sure is that there will be plenty of foals excitement and entertainment on the menu.
Because when it’s all said and done, only one team can be crowned champion.
Don’t forget you can catch all the drama and excitement of this crucial NPL NSW Men’s Grand-Final clash exclusive only to NPL.TV, download the APP or register online today.
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Rockdale Ilinden: Bradasevic, Ahmed, Casella, Gauthier, Kanaizumi, Neill, Petkovski, Savor, Sorge, Stamatellis, Wada
Sydney United 58: Nizic, Bilic, Gonzalez, Fragogiannis, Perkatis, Roberts, Sim, Tomelic, Trifiro, Vlastelica, Macdonald