NPL QUEENSLAND PREVIEW – PART TWO

In part two of our NPL Queensland preview, we look at the teams we think will feature in the top half of the table. Part one of our preview is at this link.

PALM BEACH

Last year’s Golden Boot, Chris Lucas moves to Bentleigh Greens in the NPL Victoria and that might provide a headache for coach Grae Piddock in terms of finding alternate goal-scoring options. Lucas won’t be the only one being missed, consistent midfielder, Troy Ruthven, has also made the move south while the experienced centre-back pairing of Kristian Rees and Karl Dodd have retired. All four players were integral to the Gold Coast’s side success in 2014.

Joining the club are goalkeeper Ryan Meskell who returns after a year’s absence at Olympic and the Brisbane Roar youth. Tim Jackson and Matt Jones have had playing stints at high profile clubs in the Brisbane Premier League while former Australian schoolboy representative Lochlan Reus, returns to Queensland after playing in NSW.

Fitness wise, the Sharks should be ready to go, having played their first trial match in mid-December as well as participating in the pre-season Macron Cup. Wins against the Sunshine Coast Fire, Maroochydore and a close loss to Peninsula, were the returns from that tournament.

Their opening match will be a tough first-up test, a re-match against their 2014 Grand Final foes, Olympic at the Mallawa Complex in round two.

As intimated earlier, the two keys to their season will be the replacement defensive pairing and who will fill the void left by Chris Lucas.

COACH – Grae Piddick (returning for 2015)

PREDICTION – 6th

MORETON BAY

Another Piddock joins the NPL senior coaching ranks. Adam, comes to Wolter Park from the Brisbane Strikers under 20’s.

Noted goal scorers Charles Mendy and the 2014 Golden Boot Royce Brownlie return, both banging them in during pre-season with Mendy netting seven at the Macron Cup, Brownlie contributing six and Jordan Farina also chiming in. All three players convincing in the 7-3 rout over Sunshine Coast Fire in the third-placed playoff.

A number of players have left the club, some following former coach Terry Kirkham to the Brisbane Premier League’s Peninsula Power. The most notable additions to the squad are Scott Stewart from Bayside United, Daniel Clark after an interrupted 2014 at Brisbane City and Jackson Hall from the Strikers.

As the 7-3 result against Sunshine Coast Fire shows, there’s little doubt the goals will continue to flow but it will be a matter of stemming the flow at the other end, the Jets with the fifth worst defensive record last season. A stronger defence appears to be key in improving on last year’s performance where the Jets narrowly missed out on a finals berth.

COACH – Adam Piddock (from Brisbane Strikers under 20’s)

PREDICTION – 5th

REDLANDS

‘So close but yet so far’ for the bayside team in the short history of the NPL with a fifth place in 2013 before ending sixth last year.

Incoming coach, Graham Fyfe a fan favourite by the bayside, will take away positives from the second half of last season, Elliot Ronto began to find his feet up front and his combination with speedy left winger, Nico Bechar blossomed. Bechar is currently rounding out commitments with Team Wellington in the New Zealand ASB Premiership meaning he won’t figure for Redlands until at least near the end of March.

For 2015, Redlands has plumped for a mix of promoting from within with several youth players, including Sam Langley, Austin Gosney and Jaiden Brown making the step up. They’ll be complimented by the recruitment of talent from Brisbane Premier League clubs. Matt Lyell was a part of Wolves 2014 Premiership-winning team, the very impressive Mitch Bird and 2014 Brisbane Premier League Gold Medal winner, Igor Sao Jose join from Ipswich Knights while Ryan Cokell returns after a year away at UQFC.

Both first and second choice ‘keepers, Andy Ralph and Brad Stout have departed but Alex Vargas has been very handy during the Silver Boot.

The Red Devils have probably the toughest opening set of fixtures, meeting four of the 2014’s top five in their opening five matches prior to the Easter break (Strikers, Moreton Bay, Olympic and Palm Beach). That will be a major determining factor towards their 2015 destiny.

COACH – Graham Fyfe (Long-time Redlands player, now adding coaching duties)

PREDICTION – 4th

FNQ HEAT

After going into last year’s Easter break in eleventh, the Heat produced a Lazarus-like comeback with their second place finish on the ladder. The key to 2015 will be getting off to a better start than last year’s effort.

A large number of the 2014 squad returns, including talisman Alex Smith whose leadership qualities and ability to find the goal are critical to the Heat’s season. Crios O’Hare had a brief trial at Sunshine Coast Fire in the pre-season, but has re-committed and looks to be the perfect compliment to Smith, scoring all three in the club’s 3-0 trial win against FNQ Premier League runner-up, Stratford Dolphins.

Leaving the club is Zenon Caravella, returning to the Newcastle Jets. Also departed are the Murphy brothers, Tom and Matt, to separate clubs in the NPL Victoria.

After injury stopped the dependable Josh Jennison from participation in the first half of 2014, he’ll be keen to get back into things in the centre of defence with captain Tamas Maffey-Stumpe. One of Maffey-Stumpe’s US college days teammates makes the trek north in James Price who played for the now relegated Brisbane Force in the Brisbane Premier League. Midfielder Shimon Watanabe is a similar acquisition, coming from the other relegated club, North Star.

COACH – Martin Docherty (returning for 2015)

PREDICTION – 3nd

BRISBANE STRIKERS

The Strikers start the season with a new coach in charge, Kevin A’hearne-Evans has transferred down from their arch-rivals Sunshine Coast.

Squad wise, the most notable change is the loss of leading goal-scorer, Matt Thurtell, taking his 150-plus goals with him to the NPL Victoria’s Bentleigh Greens. Jheison Macuace, in his second year at the club, seems to be a more than capable striking target, netting three in three games at the Silver Boot. Youngster Fraser Marsh has also been amongst the goals in the pre-season.

While there have been some departures, a large contingent of last year’s squad have been retained along with several youth squad players promoted. The signings that have been made are top class and will enhance the returning squad. Greig Henslee reunites with his former Fire coach and is a rock in the centre of defence; Josh Ahern was a consistent top performer at Peninsula Power while Trent Clulow was Football Brisbane Media’s player of 2014.

All-in-all, it seems a well balanced side and once again, looks like they’ll be contenders for their third successive NPL finals appearance.

COACH – Kevin A’hearne-Evans (from Sunshine Coast Fire)

PREDICTION – 2nd

OLYMPIC

Olympic will be without the services of Reuben Way and Jake McLean who are part of the exodus to the NPL Victoria. The always-consistent Terry Hughes will also be a major loss.

Despite these departures, a very strong squad remains. The back four of Matt Mundy, Matt Byrne, Nick Efstahis and Daniel Crack return, so too does Darren Gray and Kazuya Ito. Rhys Meredith has looked very keen up front in pre-season matches while Mr Olympic, captain Danny Byrne was the Macron Cup’s player of the final. Tim Smits also adds to the returning compliment.

Joining the club are the former Redlands duo of Scott Bow and Michael Lee and former Brisbane Roar youth players Sam Cronin and Costa Psaros. All four along with ex-UQFC ‘keeper Duncan Short have looked very steady in the pre-season.

The pre-season campaign has been impressive but not without a blip along the way. After not conceding a goal in the opening two matches of the Silver Boot, the old Achilles heel of conceding goals re-emerged in the final pool game, Logan Lightning scoring five and claiming a semi-final spot at Olympic’s expense. The Macron Cup outcome was more positive, winning the title. Is that an omen? Palm Beach won that tournament in 2014 and swept all before them in last year’s NPL season.

COACH – Jim Bellas (returning for 2015)

PREDICTION – 1st

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