NPL2 Round 2 Preview
A big first weekend of NPL2 saw some surprise results, and the action gets going again this weekend with a big slate of matches.
By Chris Webb
Brindabella Blues vs ANU FC | Saturday, 13th April – 3pm @ Everlast Enclosed
The boys in blue welcome the students to Everlast Enclosed for round 2 of NPL 2. In 2019, Brindabella are once again led by journeyman Jeremy Butler, and have added the immensely experienced Lino Fiorese as club technical director.
Butler has been busy in the off-season assembling his squad after being disappointed with his charges’ 7th place finish in the Capital League last season. He has managed to put together a very experienced squad holding on to the core of last season’s team notably combative centre back Tom Ruiz, former ACT Rockets representative striker Jono Toole, and star British centre midfielder Tom Hirst.
To this core he has added the NPL-experienced Bensah Afiabo, former Tuggeranong United gloveman Matt McDonald and former premier league golden boot winner Travis Dries, who returns to football after close to a decade hiatus.
With a much-improved squad, expectations from the deep-south are high, however round one didn’t go to plan as they were soundly beaten by a strong Weston Molonglo side 4-1, with Afiabo grabbing the consolation.
Brindabella will have their sights fixed on a top four berth, but their start doesn’t get any easier with reigning champions ANU FC next up. A legendary Butler pre-game speech is definitely in order, while last year’s top goal scorer, and current 20’s coach Danny Babic, may be required from the bench.
ANU FC come into the NPL 2 season on a high from back to back Capital League grand final victories, however some key personnel losses mean the students aren’t getting ahead of themselves.
After a dominant 3-0 win in the FFA cup away to NPL side Riverina Rhinos, the students fell back to earth with a tough 1-0 round one loss to Canberra White Eagles. Jim Dawson is back at the reigns, and while he once again picked up a trophy last time out, a fourth place finish in the league, pipping 5th only on goal difference, was quite a disappointment by their recent standards.
An improvement on their league position is no guarantee, especially with the colossal loss of talisman Sam Carters, arguably the best player in the Capital League over the past few seasons.
In addition, dominant centre-back Pat Carr, fullback Isaac Bennett and goal scoring winger Josh Jordan also depart, majority moving from Canberra. Replacing Carters is not an easy feat however in 18-year-old Nelson Cary, ANU may have found a ready-made replacement for many years to come. The students welcome back marauding fullback James Gazy from Woden-Weston in NPL and also welcome the notorious Tom ‘the voice’ Crossley, who brings tons of experience and on-field leadership. ANU will be looking to their dynamic front line, with Andrew Manley and Max Mottl contributing 23 goals last term, while armed with brand new compression pants, Chase Deans looks set to terrorise goal keepers once again. A dynamic u20’s team also provides options for the students, with further to Cary, Monte Grace in particular one to watch.
With both ANU and Brindabella coming off round one loses, this one is already set to be an intense encounter.
O’Connor Knights vs Narrabundah | Saturday, 13th April – 3pm @ Kaleen Enclosed
The Knights are preparing for the visit of Narrabundah and they come into the inaugural NPL 2 season with redemption on their minds after their agonising end to last season in Capital League.
That saw them missing out on the top four on goal difference, when only weeks earlier they sat in the box seat for the league premiership.
One of Canberra’s most experienced coaches Miro Trninic remains in charge, and has made numerous changes to the squad.
Most notably is the return of former ACT Rockets star midfielder Marcin Zygmunt and the capture of former Australian U/20 representative and former ACT Premier League winning centre back Dylan De Montis, who returns to football after a number of years away from the game.
On the way out of the squad is imposing keeper Francis Bangweni, Brad Olivera, Brandon ‘Shorty’ Hawker and classy midfielder Josh Parisi. Their redemption however didn’t get off the to the start expected, with the Knights suffering a 4-1 away loss to new boys on the block Wagga City.
Social Media guru Danny Krajacic got the goal, and the speedy forward’s tally will be imperative to the Knights’ success. When flanked by wingers Josip Jadric and Jake Wilsner, O’Connor have potentially the most potent front three in the competition.
Narrabundah FC finished last season’s Capital League in eighth place, the lowest of any NPL 2 side, and gaffer Jonno Zalunardo will be hoping for big improvements.
The squad has undergone massive change with essentially a merger with last season’s Monaro Panther’s Capital League side. The loss of Bensah Afiabo and top goal scorer Nathan ‘the quack attack’ Duck will hurt, but probably not more than the loss of their centre back partnership.
Firstly, towering centre back Mitch Korda returns to NPL1 with Tuggeranong United, and then legend and Captain Jose ‘Chewy’ Exposito, who has played for the Bulls’ first team since before half the players in the league were born. The loss of a player of his experience and leadership is immeasurable, however it’s not all gloom and doom for the Bulls.
Star forward Liam Boyle will hope to play more games this season and if he can stay fit, the combination of incoming forwards Matt Atkins and Nick Mihailakis, both with plenty of years of premier league experience and Boyle could pay great dividends. Meanwhile Jesse Gant and Duncan Harrington both combine class, power and experience and will once more lead the midfield.
The Bulls come in off the first round bye with a clean slate, and will be looking to get off to a flyer, but the Knights will have other plans as they look to put round one behind them and get their season back on track.
Canberra White Eagles vs Wagga City Wanderers | Saturday, 13th April – 3pm @ Woden Park
The White Eagles are at Woden Park (a.k.a the Eyrie), for the first time this season and making the long trip to join them are the new kids on the block, the Wagga City Wanderers.
Graeme Plath takes the reigns at White Eagles, coming off their second place league finish and grand final loss, and has undertaken a fair make-over for this season.
Exiting the club is notably top scorer Hussain Fureje rejoining Tigers FC in NPL and the vastly talented Vuk Vucic. But coming in are former Premier League winners David Kemp and Callum Beaton, as well as Ashley Collins, Tom Hewitt and Goran Milutinovic who all have NPL experience.
Most notable however is the capture of the very versatile Caleb Cullen-Rua who was most recently plying his trade for Goulburn Valley Suns in the Victorian NPL2. The Eagles have been in good form in pre-season, especially big Moroccan striker Zin Eljammoudi who has been scoring goals for fun.
Dejan Santrac and Eric Bonnett remain the heartbeat of the team in midfield, while Milan Santrac once again brings the creativity to the final third. A round one win over ANU goes some way to erasing the memory of last season’s grand final demolition at the hands of the same opponent, and the Eagles are definitely a favourite for silverware this season.
The Wanderers have entered the competition as something of an unknown commodity, but the fact they join from the extremely strong Football NSW Premier League structure means most teams will be wary.
A highly fancied Knights side made the trip out to Wagga in round one and were touched up to the tune of 4-1 by a well drilled home side. While players such as Matt Menser and Carl Pideski, who are well known entities in Canberra football have recently left the Wagga side, brothers Fred and Henri Gardner are recent additions.
The pair have dominated the local Wagga Premier League for many years while at Lake Albert, and they provide a massive threat upfront for the Wagga Wagga side. Fred grabbed two of the goals in their round one victory, joined on the score card by Ahmed Badawy and Jake Ploeegnes.
American recruits Paul Milner and Frank Macias are still awaiting International Transfer Clearance before they can play and will undoubtedly boost an already strong squad.
These teams met only recently in the FFA cup, with the Eagles prevailing 5-2, however that was a much weakened City side, and this week should be a much different affair. So get out there, grab a famed Eagle burger - now containing less than 5% eagle – and strap yourself in for an enthralling contest between two of the form teams of the competition.
Queanbeyan City vs Weston Molonglo FC | Sunday, 14th April – 3pm @ Riverside Stadium
A new look Riverside stadium plays host to the Sunday match this week between Queanbeyan City and the traveling Weston Molonglo, with both teams coming into the match off very different round one results.
Queanbeyan are the reigning premiers of sorts, winning the Capital League in 2018, and expectations are once again sky high, however they started the year with a shock 4-2 loss to Southern Tablelands United who struggled in their first campaign last year.
City under the leadership of player/coach Goran Josifovski remain reasonably stable although there is the huge loss of Argentinian playmaker John Kerszberg and Chris Nikitas as well as joint top scorer Dejan Nedeski.
In their place Lachlan Camm and Tom Olson join, leaving big Irishman David McCarron and the diminutive but potent Alex Lazarov to find most of the goals this season.
City once again roll out a very experienced back four lead by Alan Gaston, Brad Moore and Matty Ryan and despite their round one result will prove hard to find goals against.
Weston Molonglo will make one of the two gruelling inter-state trips this week, and the Magpies are flying high after their professional performance against Brindabella last week.
Weston lost both matches last year to Queanbeyan, which had a massive bearing on the title race, and they will be wary of their opponents once again.
Coaching duo Mase Tate and Pep Lopera continue on in their leadership role, and have seen a number of key players depart, notably midfield pair Matt Hess and Chris McEwan who have both returned to sister club Woden-Weston in NPL. Another midfielder in Tim Deheelan, winger Caleb Brown and goal keeper Josh Wade, all with considerable NPL experience, are taking a football sabbatical.
Most of the replacements have been sourced in-house from Weston’s double-title winning Capital League Reserves squad, which was a team that had quality all around, including in the coaches box.
Will Liston and Ibby Kohadry both join the club from Woden-Weston after a year off and will add some needed experience.
The Magpies are likely to turn to reigning golden boot winner Andrew Sellers who amassed an impressive 22 goals last term to once again provide goals, and he is already off the mark with a smartly taken double last week, showing in the process that he doesn’t need boots, golden or otherwise to put the ball in the net.
Two of last year’s Capital League semi-finalists squaring up is set to make this one a cracker.