The last two seasons have seen runaway leaders take charge and take out the competition in dominating style. There appears to be a lot stiffer competition this year with interest at the top and bottom of the competition. We can’t read too much into pre-season results however I think you’ll find the usual suspects rising to the top once we get to the business end of the season.
Let’s take a closer look at each of the club’s chances for the 2018 season.
After making the playoffs in 2016, Balgownie Rangers had a disappointing 2017 where they struggled for consistency. Their season highlight came about when they beat what looked like an unstoppable Fernhill side which saw them go on a three game winning streak mid-season however they went on to lose six of their next seven.
If their preseason is anything to go by, they should be playoff contenders after topping what was a difficult group on paper however, I just can't see that happening. A lot depends on whether former District League Player of the Year – Jackson Dummett can stay fit and healthy as he seems to be pulling the strings.
I just don’t think Balgownie have enough to keep up with the big guns and as such, I am tipping them to finish mid table again.
After finishing at the foot of the competition for the last three years, Bellambi may just have turned a corner. The club was struggling to attract players in recent years however with key signings like Tor Preece, Matt Richardson, and Boden Allport, they look to have added more security to their defence. At the other end, Christian Cervini, Andy Keep and Ilija Prezoski are also handy acquisitions in the top third. Rookie Coach Andrew Paine looks to have assembled a handy squad and I wouldn't be reading too much into their preseason results.
I think it will take time for this side to gel and I suspect their results will improve as the season wears on. In my opinion, the Rosellas will have a far better season than recent history and they are likely to be one of a few teams pushing the back end of the playoff positions.
It’s much the same side as last year for the goats although they did pick up a couple of handy young Premier Youth League players Trent Thompson and Jeremy Flanagan who will look to consolidate First Grade positions in the District League.
If they can show a bit more consistency, I expect Berkeley to push for a playoff position. Their preseason results have shown that they are able to match it with the heavy weights with commendable draws against Warilla and Shell Cove. In fact, despite not qualifying for the semi finals of the Fraternity Club Cup, they went undefeated in their group.
The aging Greg Moon continues to be a thorn for opposition teams whilst I think they boast a young and resilient backline. If they can keep the majority of their best eleven fit, healthy and available, I think Berkeley will give themselves a good crack at making the finals however I am predicting a 7th place finish.
After a strong preseason campaign, new signings, and a new coach (Rod Williams), Conistonwill surely start as favourites for the 2018 season. Just a couple of years ago, this club hit rock bottom and they have gradually kept raising the bar.
After a 2017 season full of promise, they fizzled out last year missing the playoffs. Anything less than a top three finish this year will perhaps be considered a failure given their assembled squad. New signings include former Bulli goalkeeper Ben McGuiness, hardman and former coach at Corrimal Gavin O’Brien with the lively Chris Stevanovski also coming from the Rangers. The team has quality all over the park however a long FFA run may test their depth.
If Coniston stay disciplined and stick to their task, I think we'll see them kick clear at some point through the season.
Helensburgh Thistle continue their improvement under coach Brad Boardman. They stormed home to make the District League Grand Final last season and they won the preseason Cup Final. With a similar side to last year, one can expect them to feature high up the ladder.
They have some exciting young players in Cody Cuthbertson and Luke Van Zyl and throw in the experience of skipper Luke Wyatt, they seem to have a well-balanced side. Japanese visa player Kai Mitani had an impressive season whilst his compatriot Naruyuki Kato stole the limelight last year. With Kato leaving the club, the Thistle will be looking for Bradley Watts to step up and get amongst the goals and don’t rule out coach Boardman coming on at various stages of the year to bag a few himself just when the team needs it.
I am expecting the Thistle to be there or thereabouts and anticipate a top three finish.
The Quarriers had a disappointing 2017 season winning just five times. The club has brought in Curtis Campbell as the new Head Coach and they have picked up former White Eagle Brian Montanari and will be hoping he can add some more firepower to a side that largely misfired last year.
Outside the first eleven, the depth does not seem to match it with some of the other big clubs and they will be banking on the likes of Chris Christoloulou, Ben Hardcastle and Mitch Gowland, Keegan Beringer to play the majority of games.
Kiama haven’t lit it up pre-season and although that is not necessarily a realistic guide, I just can’t see the Quarriers getting in amongst it this season. I do hope they prove me wrong however I am tipping them to finish in the bottom half of the table.
After their shock relegation to Community League, Shell Cove seemed to regroup and stormed to a comprehensive Premiership last year. With that has come promotion back to District League and the club has set high ambitions to return to the Premier League inside the next two years.
The club has turned to the experienced Steven Dimitrievski to guide the club through the 2018 season as their Head Coach. Whilst Shell Cove have retained the majority of the squad from last year, they will find the opposition in District League that little bit tougher.
Despite being knocked out in the Semi Finals of the Pre-season Cup to champions Helensburgh, Shell Cove will be looking to the experience of Jon Barzel, Daniel Vellonio and Aaron Cimitile to control the game whilst upfront, they have the lively Gadir Maarbani and Tyrone Gatt.
Many people seem to be tipping the Cove to win it this year. I think they’ll be chasing Coniston and fighting out second place with Helensburgh.
OAK FLATS FALCONS
The Falcons under the leadership of Mark Vinton has been regularly improving and with inclusions such as Lee Gilroy (APWE), Brenton Burke (Kiama Quarriers) and Scott Muilwyk (Fernhill), the club will be looking to give the competition a good crack this year.
The Falcons snuck into the playoffs last year on the back of some great saves from District League Goalkeeper of the Year – Ben Wunsch. He has decided to change clubs leaving a void with Jake Webster taking the gloves.
Youngster Jack Madgwick will be an influential player for the Falcons as will Jarryd Vinton. Both players are technically gifted and they will be looking to Muilwyk to get amongst the goals.
It looks a lot younger side than that of previous years and whilst I can’t see them challenging for the Premiership, I do think they will finish in the playoffs (5th).
One of the more consistent teams across the years hasn’t started the season well. A narrow win over Bellambi was followed by two disappointing results to Helensburgh and Balgownie. They actually face the Thistle in Round 1 which I think could set the tone for their season. They need to be better than what they have shown so far if they are to finish in the top three again.
They have kept a very similar squad to last year and will be looking to Corey Haines-Grose and Nathan Mucci to step it up. It’s the defensive end where Thirroul get the majority of their points. Daniel Bond, Nick Beeton and Adam Ward are generally solid and keeper Joshua Williams had a wonderful season seeing just 18 goals conceded across the season. That sort of resilience is generally going to get you results.
I think a lot of teams have worked out how to play Thirroul and I suspect they may just miss out on a finals place this year (6th).
Formerly Wests Illawarra, the club has re-invented itself somewhat and gone back to its roots. A new coach (John McDonald), new signings and new strip may just signal a new era for the Hearts who to be frank have been disappointing the last few seasons.
There is a mixture of Youth and experience in this squad and whilst the club has picked up some experienced defenders in Andrew Nanos and Vasko Mitkoski, they conceded 10 goals across their three pre-season games.
The other concern for coach McDonald is the fact that they only managed one goal in the preseason cup. One would expect that they will be expecting more from Nick Tortarella and Jason Dimovski.
As much as I would like to see the club with a new identity turn the corner, I think their pre-season struggles are real and whilst they look to have a competitive side, I think they will be finishing in the bottom half of the table.
For coach Brod Crighton, last years 11th place finish was not good enough. The team struggled for consistency and just won just 5 times. They did ensure a goalkeeping shortage which may have contributed to their leaky defence however 28 goals for was the second least in the league.
For Brod, he has seen the likes of Cameron Hanson, Andrew Christie and Doug Woodiwiss all change clubs and with Dane Hamilton has retiring, there will be a new look University side out there this year.
They have been experimenting with players throughout the pre-season with varying success. I just get the impression the side has not gelled yet. They will need to do so quickly because the separation between the top teams and the bottom teams is narrowing.
From what I have seen so far, sadly, I think University will be battling to avoid 12th place.
Any Barney King coached side is going to be competitive. Warilla have finished bridemaid in consecutive seasons and will be looking to go one step better.
It’s much the same side as last season minus Bojan Caric who has gone to South Coast Flame. Kaine Good will be key for Warilla’s title tilt. He was prolific last season and his combination with Javier Ovando, Jeremy Lopez and Adam White could be pivotal.
The Wanderers have lost Valon Rizvani (retired) and picked up young keeper Lachlan Ahling. He will be thrown into the deep end where he has big shoes to fill. The team is well balanced and is expected to challenge for the title again although there are many more aspiring challengers this season.
I think some of the other leading clubs have that stronger edge and I suspect Warilla will fill position 4th this season.
Report based on a combination of FSC reporters views.
Photo Credit: PEDRO GARCIA