AT the start of pre-season, Zac Sneddon hoped to be celebrating a Weston victory as well as his 21st birthday this Sunday before heading off to the US in July.
And while his stint at Santa Barbara City College in California is still on the cards, Sneddon is instead hoping to enjoy a Weston defeat come Sunday after Valentine’s match with the Bears at Cahill on Saturday in round 11.
The 2014 Northern NSW National Premier League rookie of the year switched to Valentine, where his father, Stephen, is techincal director and lifelong family friend Darren Sills is coach, during pre-season training.
Sneddon has helped Phoenix exceed expectations to sit fourth on 16 points, just four off the lead. Sills said Sneddon has been one of his side’s best this season.
“He’s been an absolute revelation in that he was a holding midfielder we’ve put in defence, and as a central defender, he’s been superb,” Sills said. “He’s extremely quick over the first 10-15 metres and he’s a good, aggressive defender.”
Sneddon, who filled in at centre-back last season at the Bears, said “it was just time for me to have a bit of a change” but admitted one factor in his move was the departure of several stalwarts from Weston.
“It was hard, especially since I came into first grade with players like Nathan Morris, Robbie Turnbull, Rob Macbeth and Gaz McDermott, and without those older heads around, it does change the atmosphere a bit,” he said. “It was tough when I turned up to pre-season and there was only a handful of us left, but that's football. Things change. I’m just enjoying my football again, which obviously helps, but I just feel like I fit in.”
Sneddon, though, will not be around for the last third of the season. The high school PE and geography teaching student was in Sydney on Friday organising his visa ahead of the six-month stint playing and studying in the US. He plans to return to Valentine next season.
“Darren knew that from the start, and the position we’re in, it makes it hard to leave, but it’s once in a lifetime so I thought I’d snatch it up and have a go,” he said.
In the meantime, Sneddon is hoping to help Valentine continue their bright run in 2017.
“Darren’s done really well with the squad,” he said.
“He’s brought players into roles that he needed, and he’s picked the right players in those spots.
“I think our biggest asset is that we’re not a team of superstars, we all just work for each other, and that’s instilled by Darren. That’s his philosophy.”
Weston, who lost 3-2 in the Cup to Maitland, are ninth on seven points and coming off their first win of the season, 3-0 over Charlestown.
Sneddon was not expecting an easy time against Steve Piggott’s side.
“Any side under Piggo is always a good side. You can never write them off,” he said.
“I’ve seen it firsthand. They’ve got a lot of good young blokes, especially from the Central Coast, which I think has helped them because people don’t know as much about them.
“All the players they brought in are quality and we won’t be taking them lightly. They are a dangerous squad.”
Sills, too, was wary but said his side needed to beat Weston and Charlestown in the next fortnight.
“We can’t slip up and these are the games we were slipping up in last year,” said Sills, who was an assistant to Piggott at Weston in 2014.
“For us to be a top-four side, we need to be beating teams below us on the table.
“In saying that, Weston have improved out of sight in the last two weeks and I knew that would be the case.
“Like us last year, it was going to them to time to gel, and I heard they were pretty unlucky not to get draw on Wednesday night.
“I spent a lot of time with Piggo and I know he’ll have them firing this weekend.”
Sneddon was rested from Valentine’s 4-2 FFA Cup win over Newcastle Suns on Wednesday night. Sills said striker Jalon Brown (ankle) was in doubt for the Weston clash and Alex Tserepas (ankle) was out.
Also Saturday, Lambton Jaffas play Jets Youth. On Sunday, Adamstown host Maitland, Lake Macquarie welcome Edgeworth and Broadmdeadow take on Hamilton at Magic Park.
All games start 2.30pm.