The start of the National Premier League NSW Men’s competition is here, and teams will be eager to get off to the best possible start this weekend.
There is plenty of excitement and expectation ahead of the 2023 campaign, and we’re set for huge battles at both ends of the table.
Let’s see how round one is shaping up.
Wollongong Wolves FC v APIA Leichhardt Tigers FC
7:00 pm, Friday 3 February, WIN Stadium
The 2023 NPL NSW competition gets underway with some Friday night football at WIN Stadium as Wollongong host APIA.
A new young Wolves outfit under the guidance of ex-A-League Men’s star David Carney will take to the field on what will become a familiar Friday night fixture in Wollongong.
The home side features lots of fast attacking players as Carney looks for more energy than what was shown across last season’s bottom-four finish.
However, Wollongong will be missing newly signed goalkeeper Nenad Vekic who is suspended for this one after his red card at the back end of last campaign for Marconi against APIA.
The Tigers will hope to get their campaign off to a win with ambitions of a title triumph under coach Franco Parisi in 2023.
APIA had the third-best attacking record last season, which could be to their advantage against a
Wollongong defence that shipped nearly two goals a game in 2022.
It was a dramatic finish in this fixture last season where Wolves defender Banri Kanaizumi powered home a stoppage-time equaliser to share the points in a 2-2 draw.
With goal threats aplenty on either team, it promises to be an exhilarating clash under the WIN Stadium lights to get the 2023 season underway.
NWS Spirit FC v Bulls FC Academy
5:30 pm, Saturday 4 February, Christie Park
Christie Park hosts a fascinating clash on Saturday as new boys Spirit get their first taste of NPL NSW football against the Bulls FC Academy.
David Perkovic’s side proved they could mix it with the best in the competition last year, most notably downing NPL NSW giants Sydney United to take out the Waratah Cup.
Saturday is a big test for Perkovic’s spirit, and three points could go a long way to building momentum for the season.
However, they’re without captain Grant Cornwell after the centreback picked up an ACL injury in preseason.
The young Bulls have had to shuffle their coaching ranks less than a week out from the start of the season, seeing Zeljko Kalac take over as coach to replace now Macarthur FC coach Mile Sterjovski.
Kalac has had little time to prepare his team ahead of this weekend’s match, so it remains to be seen how the former Socceroo shot stopper will set up the side.
With both sides offering aspects of the unknown entering this one – it’s an intriguing fixture that could go either way.
St George City FA v Rockdale Ilinden FC
7:00 pm, Saturday 4 February, Penshurst Park
Newly promoted St George City have been dealt a tough opening fixture hosting NPL NSW powerhouses Rockdale Ilinden on Saturday at Penshurst Park.
Coach Mirko Jurilj has brought in a raft of new recruits and with expectations to hold their own in the competition in 2023, the FNSW League One title holders will not make it easy for Rockdale.
New signings Makis and Kosta Petratos could provide plenty of attacking impetus on Saturday.
It’s a difficult task for St George, but they’ll have the home crowd with them in their maiden voyage into the NPL NSW.
Improvement on last season is the goal for Paul Dee’s Rockdale who will be keen to put three points on the board early.
The side recently picked up seasoned midfielder Loic Puyo who joins with professional experience in France and more recently with ALM side Macarthur FC offering further quality to the team.
Rockdale are favourites for this one, however, St George City could spring a surprise.
Sydney Olympic FC v Sutherland Sharks FC
3:00 pm, Sunday 5 February, Belmore Sports Ground
The reigning premiers begin their title defence against a rejuvenated Sutherland team on Sunday at Belmore Sports Ground.
Coach Labinot Haliti has recruited several former ALM stars in the offseason that we could get a first look at, including ex-Central Coast Mariners defender Ziggy Gordon and seasoned winger Nick Fitzgerald.
The side got the better of Sutherland in 2022, winning both matches, including a 4-1 victory at Belmore Sports Ground in round 17.
Damir Prodanovic’s Sharks will be hungry to rectify last season’s performances, and there would be no better place to start than by downing the defending premiers.
Sutherland have brought in several new players who will likely get their first run out this weekend in a big challenge against Olympic.
Olympic go into the match as favourites, but this new-look Sutherland team will be intent on making a good first impression in 2023.
Central Coast Mariners FC v Western Sydney Wanderers FC
3:00 pm, Sunday 5 February, Pluim Park
Two of the newly promoted sides face off at Pluim Park on Sunday with ALM academy sides Central Coast Mariners and Western Sydney Wanderers in action.
Both teams have gone through significant changes in the offseason, and there’s a new set of talented youngsters taking to either side of the field.
Former Wollongong Wolves coach Luke Wilkshire will take charge of his first NPL NSW game at the Mariners on the weekend, and three points would be the perfect start.
Andrew Christiansen will also coach his young Wanderers in the competition for the first time and will seek to put an early result on the board.
It was tight between these two sides in the FNSW League One, separated by just two points on the table, with the Mariners claiming the premiership.
However, in both of the team’s meetings in 2022, Central Coast managed to get up with a win.
They’ll be many debuts on Sunday, but some early points, either way, would be a huge boost for these young teams.
Sydney FC v Mount Druitt Town Rangers FC
3:00 pm, Sunday 5 February, Valentine Sports Park
Mount Druitt Town Rangers travel to face Sydney FC at Valentine Sports Park on Sunday.
Sydney FC will be intent on matching their superb start to the 2022 season that saw the side win seven of their first twelve matches.
The young Sky Blues proved to be a real threat going forward in 2022, bagging 53 goals in the competition – the highest of any side.
Coach Jimmy van Weeren has signalled his intentions for the young Sky Blues to mix it with the best this season, but the Rangers will not be an easy task.
Stewart Montgomery’s Mount Druitt picked some impressive results last campaign, including holding several of the sides at the top of the table to stalemates.
The Rangers are keen to build on a positive second half of last season which saw the side lose on just four occasions in eleven matches.
The sides only faced once last season, where the points were shared in a 1-1 draw.
It makes for an interesting matchup at Valentine Sports Park with both sides capable of taking the points.
MATCH OF THE ROUND: Blacktown City FC v Manly United FC
5:00 pm, Sunday 5 February, Blacktown City Sports Centre
It’s a grand final rematch at Blacktown City Sports Centre on Sunday as champions Blacktown City take on runners-up Manly United.
It’s been less than six months since these sides faced off at CommBank Stadium, with elation and disappointment likely still present for either side from that Saturday night.
Stability was a key message at both sides in the offseason with Blacktown coach Mark Crittenden keeping faith in the squad that delivered success in 2022.
New Manly coach Patrick Zwaanswijk will look to carry on the team’s exceptional form from last season, bringing in a few new names but keeping plenty of 2022’s stars around.
Blacktown performed well against United last season, including a 6-1 battering in round 19 and, of course, their 2-0 triumph in the big dance.
Travis Major played a crucial role for City last season including in their grand final victory earning the Robbie Slater Man of the Match and will be up for it again this time around.
Manly will seek revenge for last season’s grand final loss, but the tried and tested quality of Blacktown is a difficult challenge.
Sydney United 58 FC v Marconi Stallions FC
5:00 pm, Sunday 5 February, Sydney United Sports Centre
Sydney United Sports Centre plays host to a clash of NPL NSW titans on Sunday as 2022 Australia Cup finalists Sydney United take on Marconi.
United’s unprecedented achievements in 2022 have left expectations high for this year, but the Stallions will provide strong competition in this match.
Peter Tsekenis’ Marconi won both matches against Sydney United last season, including a 4-2 victory where the Stallions’ new signing Kyle Cimenti bagged a brace for United.
The side finished just a point off the top of the table last campaign so a round-one victory would put the team right up there again to start 2023.
Sydney United coach Miro Vlastelica will be keen on his side replicating their early season form from last campaign, losing only one of their opening five matches.
Both sides will fight to claim some early bragging rights and with some early momentum up for grabs as well, it may be a tight encounter.
Preview by Timothy Gibson, on Twitter @Timg123_