NPL expert @rafegriffin takes a look at the sides he expects to be in the thick of the action at the business end of the season.
If you missed part one of our preview, you can catch up here – http://bit.ly/1LDJo6K
Honestly, I’m not sure what to make of Redlands. I expected so much more from their pre-season given that the nucleus of last year’s squad has been maintained but it has been a major disappointment.
A draw against Western Pride before losses to Brisbane Premier League outfits Holland Park and Rochedale combined with defeats to Capalaba and Brisbane City outside the tournament has made for a less than prosperous preparation.
As I’m reminded constantly though, pre-season results mean nothing but there have already been trials and tribulations in terms of squad movement. Shoheel Khan has returned back to Lions after not looking suited to the Red Devils style of play. Redlands appear to have acted swiftly to find a replacement with the rumoured signing of Michael McGowan from Mitchelton.
Premiership winner Stephen Green comes from Moreton Bay, Michael Lee from Olympic and Paul O’Brien all strengthen last year’s squad but they can’t afford to get off to the same slow start as last year if the club has Premiership aspirations.
Things seem to be ticking along nicely under incoming coach Tim Campbell with the Heat going through pre-season preparations undefeated including two wins against the Northern Fury.
The usual suspects have returned including Jamie Carroll, Crios O’Hare, Jamie Gosling, Josh Pin and Simon Owens. The major loss during the break was Alex Smith, the club’s leading goalscorer for the previous two years departing for Malaysia.
No matter, enter Kieran Sanders. The British import has scored at least three times in the Heat’s four pre-season games and is shaping up as a more than handy source for goals.
There’s a positive vibe coming from the far north, they’re always a tight-knit unit given the amount of time they spend together as a squad. Can that be translated into on-field success with the aim of replicating the second placed finish from 2014.
No doubt that the Spencer Park outfit will be more steeled with former A-League coach John Kosmina coming in as coach.
The club has failed to live up to expectations over the previous two years with ninth and seventh placed finishes after being Grand Finalists in the inaugural 2013 season.
There’s been some heavy recruiting with Jason Park coming back to Brisbane after a year in Sydney, Luke Pavlou and Sam Sibatuara from the Roar, goalkeeper Tim Allen back after an overseas stint and Greg King and Scot Coulson from cross-town rivals Brisbane Strikers. Coulson looking set to relish a different role and more game time than he was seeing at the Strikers.
Mercurial goalscorer Antonio Murray will be hungry after being denied the right to potentially claim last year’s Golden Boot after the decision to cancel City’s final game against Palm Beach.
The 4-1 loss to Brisbane Premier League outfit Capalaba in the final match at the Silver Boot was a little concerning with the side looking flat but Kosmina later put that down to a heavy pre-season training schedule.
Last year’s Premiers have suffered some pretty heavy personnel losses in the off-season. No less than seven of the squad that played in the 2015 Grand Final have moved on from the club for various reasons.
It’s not all doom and gloom though for the Jets with some reasonable replacements to fill the voids. Amongst them are Sunshine Coast Fire trio Reyze Kelly, Ray Schultz and Jacob Fulluck. Matt Byrne comes from Olympic to slot into the central defender spot left vacant by Alex Henderson while Lions Premiership winner Alex Janovsky crosses the river. Japanese duo Joi Masuda and Taiga Ishikura have looked impressive in the pre-season.
It looks like it may take some time for the new-look squad to gel with mixed results at the Macron Cup. A last-gasp draw in the pool stage against Peninsula before a win against Olympic and another draw against the Gold Coast youth side were the return from that tournament. Those results saw them top the pool stages though and despite scoring first in the final against Peninsula, four unanswered goals saw them lose the final albeit playing with only ten men for an hour.
The squad still looks too good not to be in the thick of things again at season’s end and more than capable of a top four finish. Jordan Farina will be the one relied upon to generate the spark, he being very impressive during his side’s pre-season campaign.
GOLD COAST CITY
The re-badged Palm Beach Sharks for NPL purposes showed in a spectacular 50 minutes of football what they are capable of with the calibre of players they have at their disposal. There wouldn’t be too many teams who could throw five players on and turn a 6-1 deficit with twenty minutes to play into an 8-6 extra time win.
Troy Ruthven had momentarily returned to the club from last year’s Victorian Premiership winners Bentleigh Greens before returning to again link with the Greens.
Grae Piddock’s headache last year was finding a goal-scoring source and it was remarkable that they could still manage a fifth-placed finish despite scoring the third least goals in the competition. The remedy to that headache this year looks to be former Australian Schoolboy representative Lyndon Dykes who scored four times in that now famous pre-season win.
Piddock also has plenty of depth in his squad. The youth side that played at the Macron Cup was far from disgraced when playing against senior opposition.
Captain Justyn McKay is probably the most inspirational player in the whole competition in terms of what he provides to his side.
Everyone I’ve talked to connected to the Strikers has been playing down their Premiership favouritism tag. Meanwhile, the world outside the Strikers has them the overwhelming favourites for the crown based on pre-season performances and squad makeup.
While it has been denied in the inner sanctum that the way last year’s Premiership was decided won’t be a factor in this year’s campaign, there must be that little thought and extra hunger back of mind.
The club has attracted two of the top players from last year’s Brisbane Premier League. Alistair Davis scored half of Wolves goals to claim the Golden Boot while Player of the Year Shaun Carlos made what was a tough decision to leave Lions, the club he had been at for all of his playing career.
Noted goalscorer Rhys Meredith has been joined by former Olympic teammate Jake McLean who is back after a year in Victoria. Seb Usai returns after a stint in the UK while Shelford Dais adds attacking flair, fresh out of the Roar Youth system.
At the other end of the park, the retention of Greig Henslee is critical at centre-back, a truly feared force amongst opposition attacks.
They’re my thoughts, what are yours? Let me know in the comments field of the Facebook post.