NPL QUEENSLAND PREVIEW – PART ONE

Here’s our look at the teams we think will finish in the bottom half of the NPL Queensland ladder.

SOUTH-WEST QUEENSLAND THUNDER

Not the most auspicious inaugural season for the men from the range, finishing last with their only competition point coming from a washed-out match against Redlands.

There was a confidence-boosting win in the pre-season Silver Boot, notching up only their second competitive win as a senior side against Brisbane outfit, Wolves FC.

Coach Chris Wilkes was a mentor to the bulk of this side as an overage player in 2013 when the Thunder’s under-20’s made the Grand Final. He’ll also have the benefit of being able to call upon the experience of veteran coach and noted Queensland football identity, Joe Fenech, who has been appointed the club’s Technical Director.

The Thunder will be without 2014 Thunder joint player of the year, Ryan Ensor, who has linked up with the Newcastle Jets National Youth League side. Wilkes will have a majority of last season’s squad back in action, supplemented by the signing of Keagan Sheridan who arrive from the Western Pride.

While not winning a match during 2014, there were positive signs in the second half of the season with improved performances and results. If that level can be maintained going into 2015, the points tally for this season should head north.

PREDICITION – 12th

COACH – Chris Wilkes (2013 Thunder Captain)

NORTHERN FURY

Will no news be good news for the Fury? The club has taken an approach of not releasing any squad information. Therefore, at time of publication, we have little idea of who will form the 2015 squad. We tried a couple of weeks ago via social media to obtain some information but were unsuccessful in our efforts.

So what do we know? Leading 2014 leading goal scorer and NPL Young Player of the Year, Braedyn Crowley, has departed for the Newcastle Jets Youth League system. That leaves a major hole in terms of a goal scoring provider.

What we think we know – It appears that 2013 Fury Player of the Year, Michael Eisenhut will be returning, having had 2014 away from the club. His experience and leadership skills will be a valuable addition to what is likely to be a young squad. We also know the Fury defeated Mackay Lions 9-0 in a pre-season match.

So we can only base our assumptions on this year’s squad being similar to last year and hope that the club better engages with the football community in the weeks ahead.

COACH – Ian Ferguson (returning for 2015)

PREDICTION – 11th

BRISBANE ROAR YOUTH

The Roar’s progress in 2015 will once again be determined by the rotation policy of the National Youth League (NYL) squad players. Last year, a stronger side played in the first eight or so rounds before they were rested, making a short re-appearance in the middle of the season.

The current NYL campaign has been successful, sitting in third with ten wins from seventeen matches and still a chance to finish Premiers going into the final weekend. That preparation should see them enter the NPL in red-hot form.

The Roar operates more as a development squad and a number of players have been impressive in the NYL, including Young Socceroo Devante Clut. He’s a player on the rise and must be on the verge of regular A-League football. If you’ve followed the NPL closely in its previous two years, Abrahim Yango, Sam Sibatuara and Cameron Crestani were part of the QAS squad in the 2013 season and look to be developing nicely.

It’s probably unfair to single out players in a squad like this because there is plenty of talent that will excite. Well worth getting out to seeing them in action.

COACH – John Sime

PREDICTION – 10th

SUNSHINE COAST FIRE

2014 senior captain, Paul Arnison, steps off the field and into the head coach role having had charge of Fire’s youth side in recent years.

The off-season has seen a fair squad turnover with players recycling to and from the Sunshine Coast Premier League. The majority of arrivals have come from Caloundra, who defeated the Fire in last year’s FFA Cup qualifying.

Among the ex-Caloundra contingent is ‘keeper Dale Hill, a former Fire player who was part of the 2012 campaign before injury saw him miss playing in that year’s Grand Final winning side. Also joining him is Ray Schultz, a 2014 Sunshine Coast All-Stars representative that took on the Football Brisbane select team.

Japanese players form a major part of Fire history and this year will be no different. Takumi Kinoshita most recently plied his trade in Germany while his countryman, Kenya Takahashi was a part of the youth squad at J-League giants, Yokohama F Marinos.

Overall, performances in the Macron Cup have been satisfactory with two wins in the pool stages qualifying them for the playoff for third against Moreton Bay. The 7-3 loss in that match might at least be partly explained by Arnison taking the opportunity to play different combinations and structures.

COACH – Paul Arnison (2014 Sunshine Coast Fire Senior Captain and under 18’s coach)

PREDICTION – 9th

WESTERN PRIDE

The Pride’s pre-season performances have been encouraging. The most improved side in the second half of the 2013 season, that momentum didn’t carry through to the 2014 season, picking up only five wins with outgoing coach Kasey Wehrman seemingly struggling for squad numbers.

Incoming coach, Karl Dodd, knows what it takes to succeed at the elite level having stints as player at A-League clubs Brisbane (Queensland) Roar and North Queensland Fury, was strength and conditioning coach at the Newcastle Jets and was an integral member of Palm Beach’s title-winning playing squad in 2014.

His mantra seems to be a youth-focused outlook. Several talented young players have been drafted into the squad. Based on Silver Boot performances, ‘keeper Bon Scott (Brisbane City/Brisbane Roar Youth), Gabriel Hawash (QAS), Harrison Sawyer (Peninsula Power) and Nick Haworth (Brisbane Force) all look like exciting prospects. Add that to the experience of Peter Drager who is returning from injury and the signs for the year ahead look better than last year.

That doesn’t necessarily mean that the Pride will threaten for a finals spot but they will give some of the more-fancied teams a good run for their money and they should have some impact on who ultimately makes the top four.

COACH – Karl Dodd (Palm Beach 2014 Senior squad member)

PREDICTION – 8th

BRISBANE CITY

The Newmarket club has been re-invigorated off the field during the summer break and hopes will be high that this flows into on-park performances.

2013 Golden Boot winner, Antonio Murray, returns after a brief cameo late in 2014. From the NPL Tasmania, Curran Ferns (see video of his showreel below) joins the club with an impressive pedigree via the Victorian Institute of Sport, Melbourne Heart and Melbourne Victory youth programs. He’s been a standout during the Silver Boot pre-season competition, playing in a defensive midfield role.

Curran Ferns Highlights Reel

The take-out of the pre-season is that it appears the side is still a work in progress. Key men Murray and captain Matt Biggins missed match time and their addition back into the side will assist City to get into their groove.

We may see a similar story to the 2013 season where they dropped their opening two matches, before going on a thirteen game unbeaten streak when things started getting into gear, ultimately making the Grand Final. The opening weeks see three consecutive home matches between rounds two and four but a potentially tough run of matches, meeting four of the top five 2014 sides within the first six rounds (Strikers, Heat, Moreton Bay and Olympic).

COACH – Glen Volker (returning for 2015)

PREDICTION – 7th

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