NPL Northern NSW 2018 Season Review
Who would have predicted it at the beginning of the season? After losing more than half a team prior to season kick-off it looked a long shot for Edgeworth Eagles to replicate the success of season’s past. It was some key signings including Jamie Byrnes and Tyson Jackson stepping up, joining youngsters Adam Cawley and Will Bower and crucial Edgeworth legends Josh Evans and Pat Wheeler which enabled the side to do what many thought was impossible. An undefeated run started in round 10 and stretched all the way until the Grand Final seeing Edgeworth pick up their fourth successive Premiership. (The last team to do this was Highfields Azzurri 1992-95). The only dampeners on such a fantastic season was the failure to qualify for the FFA Cup Round of 32 and, after qualifying for the Grand Final after defeating Lambton Jaffas 4-3 on aggregate in the semi finals, going down in the big dance to a much superior Broadmeadow Magic side.
Securing their fourth finals place in as many years was Broadmeadow Magic, who challenged for the Premiership and led the race at various junctures throughout the early parts of the season. Second is the highest Magic has finished on the NPL Northern NSW ladder since 2013 when they took out the Premiership, and this season’s finish wasn’t due to a lack of trying. The stats speak for themselves – a league-high, 44 goals scored and a second-lowest 20 goals conceded sees them finish the season with a goal difference of +29. A run all the way to the FFA Cup Round of 16, where they were taken out by NPL Victoria heavy-weights Bentleigh Greens, was undoubtedly the highlight of their season. A close second was the form of attack of James Virgili and Kale Bradbury. Between them, they scored 28 of Broadmeadow’s goals (63%!). Their form so good, it earned Virgili a brief return to the Newcastle Jets squad. Magic did well to qualify for their second Grand Final in three years, with a 3-2 aggregate win over Maitland in the semi-finals, and made the most of their opportunity after sealing a dominant 3-0 victory over the premiers Edgeworth, to win their first championship since 2013.
After a stunning 9-1 victory in the opening weeks of the competition, what looked like an incredibly strong Maitland Magpies squad showed they could live up to the hype. An already strong squad was bolstered all over the park with players brought over by new coach Michael Bolch from former club Hamilton. The Swan brothers and Grant Brown among them. Home form was Maitland’s strength this season, with them winning seven and losing just two matches up on Windy Hill. The Magpies struggled in matches against the top four. In eight attempts (against Magic, Lambton and Edgeworth), they won just twice. Tom Duggan began to come into his own as he was given his chance in first grade, the youngster a certain player to watch in 2019. For the second time in three years, Maitland crashed out of the semi-finals by just one goal. This time, it was a 3-2 aggregate loss to Magic.
Chock-full of former Newcastle Jets players young and old, injuries have curtailed the ability of Lambton Jaffas to launch a real raid on the premiership. A recurring ankle injury to midfielder Jobe Wheelhouse restricted his impact, but the mid-season signing of Braedyn Crowley helped spark Lambton’s season into life as he went on to score 8 goals in 14 regular season matches. There were some match-winners among those, against the likes of Maitland and Charlestown. Jaffas’ position on the ladder was only made possible by a solid defensive effort which saw them concede just over one goal a game and keep six clean sheets. They missed out on the FFA Cup Round of 32 by a whisker, going down on penalties to Charlestown City Blues in the seventh round of qualifying. The Jaffas missed their shot at consecutive grand final wins, to Edgeworth, 4-3 on aggregate in a thrilling semi-final clash.
Entertaining, unpredictable, and outsiders are all words used to describe Hamilton Olympic this season. The team lost a number of club stalwarts to clubs like Charlestown and Maitland and gained a new coach, Peter McGuinness, who was in the dugout for the first time since 2010 – resulting in low expectations for the season. Didn’t they prove the critics wrong? Performances of emerging young talents like Jed Hornery, Jarryd Sutherland and Rhys Cooper turned heads. The second-highest scoring team in the competition, Hamilton went toe-to-toe with Maitland over the back-end of the season for a spot in the finals but ultimately just missed out. 2018 has played a solid platform for them build on in 2019.
It was an incredible beginning to the season for Charlestown City Blues who lit the competition on fire with five wins in their opening five matches. It was a run which couldn’t last and ultimately did not having only won just five of their next fifteen, missing out on the finals. They weren’t helped by injuries to key players. Riley McNaughton was ruled out for the season early on, last year’s Golden Boot winner Kane Goodchild missed a majority of the season with a hamstring tear and a knee injury at the back-end of proceedings prompted former Australia defender Ljubo Milicevic to call time on his distinguished career. The highlight of the season would have undoubtedly been a qualification for the FFA Cup Round of 32, where they went down fighting to NPL Victoria leaders Heidelberg United.
A developmental squad which has often played with such a mentality, this season the Newcastle Jets Youth came out with the intention of engraining a winning mentality. This came about from the belief of coaches Lawrie McKinna and Labinot Haliti that players can’t improve without having that killer instinct, and it’s a belief which looks to have proven itself after the young Jets managed to add nine points to last year’s tally. It was an interrupted season as the Jets travelled to China twice, for the Hong Kong Sevens and then the Weifang Cup, and both McKinna and Haliti have maintained those competitions were crucial building blocks in the development of these young players. Kieran Hayes and Jack Simmons are two players in particular who have come a long way this season, as has goalkeeper Noah James.
It really has been a case of so close, yet so far for Lake Macquarie City this season. They can boast the Golden Boot winner in Sam Walker, who scored 16 goals this season, but despite scoring a plethora of goals the Roosters couldn’t keep enough out. They conceded at a rate two goals a game, 42 in total, in a defence which was impacted by the loss of Cameron Holzheimer who was able to return for the last three weeks of the season. Of their 12 losses this season, seven were by just one goal. Under the wing of Nick Webb in his first season as Roosters head coach, were rarely truly out-classed but struggled to find that killer instinct at times.
After two years anchored to the bottom of the NPL Northern NSW ladder, anything but last would have been a major improvement for Weston Bears. They did more than that and picked up 20 points this season: that’s five more than the last two years combined. The injection of some experience did Weston wonders this season, such as the return of Weston legend Nathan Morris and the signing of experienced heads in Josh Maguire and Kew Jaliens. All proved invaluable in helping steer what was still a remarkably young side around the park. They managed huge wins over heavyweights Broadmeadow and Maitland, but inconsistency was their worst enemy and a failure to string together a good run of form brought them undone. Next year marks a new beginning for Weston – coach Steve Piggott will depart, and Jaliens will step into the top job.
There was very little expectation placed on Adamstown Rosebud this season. After all, they had a fresh-faced Shane Cansdell-Sherriff in the dugout for his first year as a senior coach and had signed kid-after-kid. Following a shaky start, including a 9-1 battering by Maitland, Adamstown bought into what the coach was selling and results started to come their way. Wins over Edgeworth and Charlestown made the competition sit up and take notice, but a poor run in the back-half of the season didn’t see them win a game after round ten and thus finishing in tenth. The 48 goals conceded were the problem for Adamstown this year, but the signs amongst the young squad are encouraging.
It’s been a sorry old year for this season’s wooden spooners Valentine Phoenix, who just didn’t cut the mustard despite their best efforts. The departure of former NPL NSW talent Daniel Ott before the season, who eventually signed with Charlestown, was perhaps an early sign it wouldn’t be all sunshine and rainbows at Valentine this season. He is one player who they could have desperately done with this season as scoring goals was the challenge for Phoenix. They scored just 19 in 20 league matches this season and have Joel Wood to thank, as he scored eight of those. Valentine weren’t without their positive moments this season – they did the double-over Weston (their only two wins of the season) and came close in matches against Hamilton and Lambton early on. With Sam Griffin stepping up along-side Darren Sills to coach next season their good relationship may reap rewards.