NPL Queensland – The Run Home

Rafe Griffin (@griffofootball)

Last weekend’s catch-up round marked just five rounds to go before the NPL Queensland regular season ends and the post-season commences. The top three are clear of the rest of the pack and will fight it out as to who will be 2015 Premiers while five into one doesn’t go in the search of the fourth and final club that will contest the finals.

Here’s our look at each club’s run to the finals and we take a brave stab in predicting who might be in the final four in the ‘#NPLQLDRunHome’ in an exciting conclusion to the season that commences tonight.

Moreton Bay – 1st place, 36 points, goal difference +22

Matches remaining: Brisbane Roar (A), FNQ Heat (H), Western Pride (A), Palm Beach (A), Northern Fury (H), SWQ Thunder (A), Brisbane Roar (H).

Key match: Round 19 vs FNQ Heat, Wolter Park.

Have been in pole position pretty much from the time the first ball was kicked in anger and having played the Strikers and Olympic, it’s now their title to lose with the benefit of having one game in hand over the Strikers and two on Olympic.

Whether they will become Premiers seems to come down to if FNQ Heat and Palm Beach can take points off them, those two teams seem the most lIkely in being able to spoil the party but funnily enough of the teams the Jets are still to play, it’s the Thunder who have been closest to pulling off a victory.

Key player: Matt Capelo. Yes, there are the higher profile players like Royce Brownlie, Charles Mendy and Luke Borean but Capelo has been the glue this year in providing the key link between the back and forward lines.

Predicted finish: 1st (52 points)

Brisbane Strikers – 2nd place, 34 points, goal difference +21

Matches remaining: Olympic (H), Northern Fury (A), Palm Beach (H), SWQ Thunder (A), Sunshine Coast Fire (A), Northern Fury (H).

Key match: Round 18 vs Olympic, Perry Park.

It all starts tonight for the Strikers in their quest to knock the Jets off their perch. Defeat against Olympic would pretty much end their Premiership aspirations.

Their NPL campaign is punctuated by their FFA Cup clash in Melbourne next week, meaning two long trips within five days as they travel to Townsville the following weekend where they can ill afford any letdown in performance against the Fury.

They would fancy their chances in their remaining matches against sides that they have already defeated this season, save for the Fury.

Key player: Jheison Macuace. Labelled as potentially the player of this year’s competition by his coach Kevin A’herne-Evans, the Colombian is his side’s leading scorer and third in the league overall.

Predicted finish: 2nd (49 points)

Olympic – 3rd place, 33 points, goal difference +19

Matches remaining: Brisbane Strikers (A), Brisbane Roar (H), FNQ Heat (A), Northern  Fury (A), Western Pride (H).

Key match: Round 18 vs Brisbane Strikers, Perry Park.

It’s simple, lose tonight and there’ll be no repeat of their 2013 Premiership, they will cede advantage to the top two. They do go into this match in peak form though, winning their last three with five goal victories in their last two.

After tonight, they’ll need to overcome the disappointment of a heavy loss to the Roar first time round and then travel to Cairns where they’ve won only once in three tries. The Premiership trophy looks just a step too far for them at the moment but they will gain a second chance at silverware in the finals.

Key player: Alistair Quinn. A recent arrival at Goodwin Park, Quinn provides stability into an Olympic backline often guilty of conceding cheap goals and can also contribute at the other end of the park, scoring two in the win against Brisbane City.

Predicted finish: 3rd (44 points)

Redlands – 4th place, 27 points, goal difference +15

Matches remaining: Sunshine Coast Fire (A), SWQ Thunder (H), Brisbane City (A), FNQ Heat (H), Brisbane Roar (A).

Key match: Round 21 vs FNQ Heat, Cleveland Showgrounds

Redlands have a bit of a quirk in their draw, they’ve played all their matches against most of the strong contenders meaning that of their remaining five matches they will face the bottom three sides. Their round 21 match against the Heat will be pivotal given the Cairns-based side is one place lower on the table and a win behind.

Given that scenario and their recent run of form, where they have lost just once in their last ten, that places them in the box seat to take that fourth finals spot. Redlands themselves might be their own biggest threat if complacency or a drop in performance sets in and if they do make their first ever appearance in the finals, they’ll have the top four well and truly looking over their shoulder.

Key player: Graham Fyfe. The player-coach had a slower than usual start to the season by his standards and it’s been no coincidence that with his lift in form, Redlands rise up the table has also coincided.

Predicted finish: 4th (40 points)

FNQ Heat – 5th place, 24 points, goal difference +10

Matches remaining: Western Pride (A), Moreton Bay (A), Olympic (H), Redlands (A), Palm Beach (H).

Key match: Round 20 vs Olympic, Barlow Park.

There’s any number of matches we could have picked as key for the Heat, remaining matches are going to be tough tests with their opponents all in the mix for the post-season.

Inconsistency has marred their season to date. As we’ve pointed out on a number of occasions, the attack is fine but their defence as been like a leaking sieve on occasions. To make the finals for a second consecutive year, the form they displayed in their 3-1 win against Olympic earlier in the year and their most recent 5-1 decimation of the Fury will need to be replicated.

Also key is collecting a first ever win against Redlands. That would reduce the current gap and provide a potential dent in that current juggernaut.

Another aspect to consider is that while they host Olympic in Cairns, they will then travel to Melbourne midweek for an FFA Cup match before another plane trip to Brisbane the following weekend against Redlands.

Key player: Alex Smith. When Smith is ‘on’, so is the rest of his side. A player that the rest of the competition fears whenever he is on the ball due to his ability to make something out of nothing.

Predicted finish: 5th (36 points)

Northern Fury – 6th place, 24 points, goal difference 0

Matches remaining: Brisbane City (A), Brisbane Strikers (H), Brisbane Roar (A), Olympic (H), Moreton Bay (A), Brisbane Strikers (A).

Key match: Round 21 vs Olympic, Townsville Sports Reserve

The Fury have a similarly tough run to their northern cousins in that they will come up against the top three, including the Brisbane Strikers twice.

Goal difference is also not on their side and if they are to finish in the top four, they will need to do that little bit extra than the other contenders to get there.

Most of their wins have come at the expense of teams below them on the ladder, their only victories against teams above them were at the beginning of the season against the Heat and Redlands so they will need to take points from the top three in order to be a genuine finals contender.

Key player: Jacob Crowley. The Fury captain is a workhorse for his side and leads from the front.

Predicted finish: 8th (28 points)

Brisbane Roar – 7th place, 22 points, goal difference +14

Matches remaining: Moreton Bay (H), Olympic (A), Northern Fury (H), Sunshine Coast (A), Redlands (H), Palm Beach (H), Moreton Bay (A).

Key match – Round 22 vs Redlands, Perry Park.

Even if the Roar finish in the top four, they’re ineligible to play in the post-season under the terms of their participation in the competition. What they will do though is to have a say in who does feature in the finals and have a considerable impact on who will be crowned Premiers with two matches against Moreton Bay and another against Olympic.

We’re more likely to see a young Roar squad for the remainder of the season, made up of mainly players from the under 18’s as regular NPL players have been called up to train with the senior squad as part of preparations for the upcoming A-League season.

Results have been mixed have been mixed in recent weeks so it’s difficult to get a gauge on how things may play out.

Predicted finish: 7th (29 points)

Western Pride – 8th place, 22 points, goal difference -10

Matches remaining: FNQ Heat (H), Sunshine Coast (A), Moreton Bay (H), Brisbane City (H), Olympic (A), Palm Beach (A).

Key match: Round 18 v FNQ Heat, Briggs Road Sporting Complex

The first test for the Pride comes as early as this Saturday night. If they can’t win against the Heat, they may be the latest team to rule a red line through as they would go five points behind their opponents and are in a very poor position with their goal difference.

On the balance, this side is capable of anything on their day. They were perhaps unlucky not to get something out of their recent loss to the Strikers as they created plenty of chances but luck did not go their way finding the woodwork on several occasions.

They proved on Saturday night what they can do in a win against the Sunshine Coast Fire and that is the key in such a youthful side, harnessing the positive aspects and trying to maintain consistency.

Key player: Todd Norris. The former National Youth League player’s creativity shone through in the weekend’s 3-0 win against the Fire.

Predicted finish: 9th (28 points)

Palm Beach – 9th place, 21 points, goal difference +4

Matches remaining: SWQ Thunder (H), Brisbane City (H), Brisbane Strikers (A), Moreton Bay (H), FNQ Heat (A), Brisbane City (A), Brisbane Roar (A), Western Pride (H).

Key match – Round 21 vs Moreton Bay, Mallawa Complex.

Here’s the pro in Palm Beach’s case for making the finals, their current ninth place is not indicative of their current standing due to three catch-up matches. The con? Exactly that, the crowded schedule they will face. Throw in next week’s FFA Cup clash and it appears they will now have to play midweek football for the remainder of the season.

A tough run of matches awaits in rounds 20, 21 and 22 facing the top two sides and then the long away trip to Cairns to face the Heat in what looms as a potential semi-final before the semi-finals proper.

How they manage the barrage of football that they will have to contend with until the end of the season will guide whether they can make their second finals appearance in a row.

Key player: Justyn McKay. Without the presence of the Palm Beach captain, the side just wouldn’t be the same. Consistent performer who is the Sharks 2015 leading goalscorer.

Predicted finish: 6th (35 points)

Sunshine Coast – 10th place, 17 points, goal difference -11

Matches remaining: Redlands (H), Western Pride (H), SWQ Thunder (A), Brisbane Roar (H), Brisbane Strikers (H).

Key match – Round 22 vs Brisbane Strikers, Sunshine Coast Stadium.

While still a mathematical chance of making the finals, in reality their chances for silverware evaporated in Saturday night’s loss to the Western Pride.

Coach Paul Arnison hinted after that match that he will look to give younger members of his extended squad a go in the remaining weeks. The Fire will rue what might have been, looking like a definite for the post-season with a four match winning run around Easter.

We’ve targeted the final round match against traditional rivals Brisbane Strikers as the key match. While the Fire might not feature in the finals series, they could well have a say as to the Strikers’ final spot on the table.

Key player: Ray Schultz. The Fire have conceded plenty of goals and if they’re to stem the flow, they’ll need the experienced back to effectively anchor the backline.

Predicted finish: 10th (20 points)

Brisbane City – 11th place, 13 points, goal difference -23

Matches remaining: Northern Fury (H), Palm Beach (A), Redlands (H), Western Pride (A), SWQ Thunder (H), Palm Beach (H).

Key match – Round 22 vs SWQ Thunder, Corporate Travel Management Stadium.

There’ll be no finals action for the 2013 runners-up for the second year in a row. Blooding of youngsters has become a priority as the club looks to the future and how their 2016 squad might look.

The performances in the recent past have been reasonably good, save for their most recent match against Olympic where they suffered a heavy 5-0 loss. If the squad can get back to the standard prior to that match, there will be more points coming to complete the season and potentially, a climb a couple of places up the ladder.

Key player: Anthony Poljak. A youngster who has been promoted to the senior side as a result of a change in the coaching personnel. Has looked lively in the appearances he’s had and has the potential to add some X-Factor.

Predicted finish: 11th (18 points)

SWQ Thunder – 12th place, 1 point, goal difference -61

Matches remaining: Palm Beach (A), Redlands (A), Sunshine Coast (H), Brisbane Strikers (H), Brisbane City (A), Moreton Bay (H).

Key match – Round 22 vs Brisbane City, Corporate Travel Stadium.

Coach Chris Wilkes must scratch his head after every match wondering what performance will come out of his team from week to week. This is a team that held first placed Moreton Bay to an honourable 1-0 loss but there have been performances since that haven’t been up to that standard.

The aim for the Thunder for the remainder of the season is to come away with their inaugural win in the competition and the best chance of achieving that appears to be in their final round match against fellow cellar-dwellers Brisbane City. To do that, they’ll need a full 90 minute performance like that one against the Jets.

Key player: Pierce Clark. Yes there are 10 players in front of him but the young keeper has put in some impressive performances in the opportunities he’s had with the gloves in the senior side.

Predicted finish: 12th (1 point)