On paper at least, or from the outside, it might not have seemed the smartest of moves for Nate Cavaliere.
The 23-year-old goalkeeper had spent two years in the shadow of veteran Brad Swancott at Lambton Jaffas, but instead of moving down to a lower-ranked team in search of game time, Cavaliere went to the top.
Cavaliere joined Edgeworth, who had just finished a second season of domination in the Northern NSW National Premier League. Jim Fogarty had been the mainstay in goals and even secured a short-term deal with the Newcastle Jets as injury cover last November.
Coach Damian Zane, though, was keen to increase competition for spots and Cavaliere was up for the challenge.
Fifteen games in, Cavaliere is statistically the best in the NPL.
He has started in every game for the league-leading Eagles, who have the best defensive record, with just 10 goals conceded. He also has seven clean sheets to have the NPL goalkeeping award all but secured, and he’s helped his team into the FFA Cup round of 32.
And all in his first full season of top-grade NPL action, a fact that most excites Zane.
“We didn’t promise him anything,” Zane said. “But he came in, Jim was away on holidays, and Nate got his shot and did nothing wrong.
“You could say it’s easy to keep your spot behind our defence but I said to the keepers, ‘any mistake will be getting punished’, just because they are all there and they want a fair go.
“But he hasn’t put a foot wrong and considering it’s his first year in first grade and goalkeeping is all about experience, it's exciting to think where he may be in a few years.”
Cavaliere was also highly valued at the Jaffas and was being groomed to take over from Swancott, who was expected to retire at the end of last season. However, the 37-year-old played on this year, prompting Cavaliere’s switch to the Eagles.
Cavaliere, though, had only gratitude for the Jaffas and was thankful for his time learning from Swancott.
“If you’ve got life in the legs, you want to keep going, so there’s no hard feelings there at all,” he said. “I’d be the same.”
Cavaliere, who spent three years at West Wallsend before joining Jaffas, said he had no expectations at Edgeworth.
“They give a lot of young players a chance out there and Zaney had always rewarded people for good performances,” he said. “I thought if I went there and did well, I’d get rewarded.”
He said standing behind the likes of Pat Wheeler and Josh Evans “makes my job easy” and he had quickly learned why the Eagles had become so successful.
“Just the attitude and atmosphere the players have,” he said. “It’s a never-say-die attitude and the training we put in, the intensity and quality is always there. Eventually that always shows on the pitch.”
Cavaliere, who works as a waiter and personal trainer, admitted to feeling intimidated initially training with the all-conquering squad but said they had welcomed him in and were “a great bunch of lads”.
The Warners Bay junior has ambitions to play at a higher level but was focused on staying on top in his breakthrough season at the Eagles.
“I don't want to get too far ahead of myself,” he said. “I just want to keep my head down, do the right things at training, and hopefully it can continue.
”Usually at Edgeworth, which has been different than previous seasons for me, is sometimes you only get that one moment in games, and you’ve got to win it, so it’s a matter of staying focused for the whole 90.”