SUNSHINE COAST FIRE
If this preview had been written last week, it might have had a completely different feel about it. After the acrimonious departure of coach Paul Arnison last Friday, who knows what shape the squad may be in come Saturday night’s opener against the Western Pride.
What we do know is that three of last year’s better players Ray Schultz, Jacob Fulluck and captain Reyze Kelly have left the club to link up with Moreton Bay.
Jeremy Stewart who banged in twenty-two goals for Kawana last year in the Sunshine Coast Premier League is slated to join the squad but what the season holds in store looks set to come down how peace talks between Chairman Noel Woodall and the senior playing group were received.
Brand new season, brand new coach, brand new look. The Thunder made the rest of the competition stand up and take notice after firstly recruiting last year’s Premiership winning goalkeeper Luke Borean and then adding former Olympic player Mustafa Jafari whose pace came to the fore in the club’s 4-2 win against the Ipswich Knights at the Silver Boot.
Throw in experienced players Ben Barrowclift and Kevin Doyle from the Toowoomba Premier League and Majok Piok from Western Pride and the Thunder are a completely different proposition for 2016.
Without a victory in the NPL in 44 games over two years, they look certain to break that duck during the season, possibly as early as Saturday night when they host the Fury.
After taking over mid-last season, Graham Harvey has had the benefit of a full pre-season to take charge of his own squad.
Youth will be the focus once again but Harvey will be without the services of Bon Scott who has moved to the Newcastle Jets and Harry Sawyer to the Roar. Also missing will be influential defender Lincoln Rule and talisman striker Peter Drager, both sighting personal circumstances in not being able to commit to the expectations of NPL commitments.
The positive is that 2015 NPL Under-23 All-Star representative and former Northern Fury player Sean Karambasis joins the club.
Pride have had a full dance card with pre-season games so fitness shouldn’t be an issue but weren’t able to record a victory during their Silver Boot campaign.
Once again, there is very little information coming out of Townsville about the squad line-up but pre-season results have been less than satisfactory. Two losses to the FNQ Heat and a last minute draw against Mackay Magpies has left Ian Ferguson scratching his head.
Captain Ari Isman has departed to northern cousins the Heat while promising youngster Sean Karambasis has made the move south to Western Pride.
What we do know is that the lively Michael Eisenhut is still hanging around, so too is last year’s leading scorer Joe Thornton.
I flirted with the temptation to put them last but previous seasons would indicate that they’ll be more than capable of collecting at least a handful of wins, particularly at home.
Always difficult to line up the Roar given that they rotate the squad while balancing National Youth League and A-League commitments. The difference this year is that the NYL has been more condensed and ended a number of weeks earlier than usual with no NPL overlap.
A number of players have entered the Roar system from local clubs including Joseph Champness from Moreton Bay, Tommy Jarrad from Lions, Jayden Prasad from Redlands and Harry Sawyer from Western Pride.
On the converse, a number of players have been released to go into the broader NPL system; Ben Litfin, Shelford Dais, Luke Pavlou and Sam Sibatuara most notable amongst them.
The squad will obviously be well disciplined and on their day, possess the attacking will to beat anyone as evidenced by the 10-0 NYL win against Adelaide United.
It wouldn’t be a pre-season without some turmoil at Goodwin Park. Rumours were running rife that coach Jim Bellas was destined to walk the plank after the heavy 6-0 loss against the Brisbane Strikers in their opening Silver Boot match.
Things slowly turned around from that low point although there was another thudding bolt of reality when Gold Coast City put half a dozen past them on Sunday.
Bellas has promoted plenty of youth into the senior squad for this season. One of those players is Youeil Shol who has big shoes to step into up front with the departure of Tim Smits. Shol has shown that he is more than capable though, banging away plenty through the pre-season.
How Olympic’s season could pan out might be known as early as this weekend in their clash against FNQ Heat, a fixture that has never disappointed the neutral in the short history of the league.
Stay tuned for part two tomorrow where predictions are made for the top six.