A coaching and player merry-go-round, five new bosses and a weakened Edgeworth make the 2018 Northern NSW National Premier League the toughest to predict in years.
The Eagles have dominated with three consecutive premierships, but have lost six starters and made little movement on the recruitment front.
Given new coaches and mass changes at several clubs, the likes of Broadmeadow and 2017 grand final winners Lambton Jaffas appear the safest bets for success.
Both finished last season strongly and have retained the nucleus of their side. Magic get the nod, only after the Jaffas’ pre-season setbacks in recruitment and injury. However, Maitland, Edgeworth, Hamilton and Charlestown have the rosters to challenge, making for potentially the closest league in recent memory.
Coach: Ruben Zadkovich (2nd season). Losses: Peter Haynes (retired), Scott Pettit (Hamilton), Ben Higgins (Adamstown), Scott Robertson, Niko Giantsopoulos, Lawrence Foteff. Gains: John Majurovski (Newcastle Suns), Justin Broadley (Lakes), Paul Bitz (Adamstown), Cody Carroll (Jets Youth), Luke Callen (FFA COE), Soma Takebe (Japan), Jonty Busch (Dubbo). Key: Consistency. Magic made a poor start last year but powered home and pushed Edgeworth all the the way in the semis. They have losses for 2018 but have covered them well in recruitment with a nice mix of youth and experience. Tip: 1st
2017: 3rd (grand final winners)
Coach: James Pascoe (3rd season). Losses: Liam O’Dell (work), Nathan Morris (Weston), Rhys Tippett (retired), Riley McNaughton (Charlestown). Gains: Marcus Duncan (Hamilton), Bren Hammel (Edgeworth). Key: Recovery. Jaffas are class but they won’t be as strong to start the year after all but losing Liam O’Dell (work) and the departure of recruits Kieran Sanders and Cade Mapu. A delayed start for Jobe Wheelhouse (ankle) and other injuries could put them on the back foot early. Tip: 2nd
2017: 1st (grand finalists)
Coach: Damian Zane (4th season). Losses: Brody Taylor, Keanu Moore, Ayden Brice (Victorian NPL), Bren Hammel (Jaffas), Kieran Sanders, Keigo Moriyasu. Gains: Jamie Byrnes, Jacob Golding (Weston), Mitch Dobson (Jets Youth). Key: Defence. Depth has been a key to success for Edgeworth, but it will be tested this season. All six departures will hurt and the likes of Adam Cawley and Will Bower will have to step up. Josh Evans and Pat Wheeler will keep the Eagles strong at the back but goals may be harder to find. Tip: 3th
Coach: Michael Bolch (1st season). Losses: Blake Thompson, Ryan Broadley (travelling), Shane Cansdell-Sherriff (retired), Jordan Elphick, Matt Sokulsky (Adamstown), Zac Hill (work), Sam Rossi, Jye Mckellar (Thornton), Ben Martin. Gains: Andrew Swan, Mat Swan, Grant Brown, Louis Townsend (Hamilton), Zac Thomas, James Thompson (Weston), Alex Read (Adamstown). Key: Stability: The Magpies have come out fairly even on losses and gains and been impressing in pre-season. A washed out start to last season compacted their schedule, which took its toll late in the campaign. An even workload and their strong core group should see them improve. Tip:4rd
Coach: Peter McGuinness (1st season). Losses: Mat Swan, Andrew Swan, Grant Brown, Louis Townsend (Maitland), Kane Goodchild, Scott Smith, Danny Ireland (Charlestown), Marcus Duncan (Jaffas), Luke Rutledge, Thomas Carias-Cox (Adamstown), Daniel Bird, Tom Spencer. Gains: Stuart Musialik (Adamstown), Scott Pettit (Magic), Jacob Bailey (injury), Simon Mooney (Argenton), Jake McGuinness, Jed Hornery, Jarryd Sutherland (Mariners Youth), Rhyan Smith (Jets Youth), Blake Green (Lakes). Key: Combinations. A huge turnover of players across Olympic’s top two squads makes them an unknown quantity this season. However, while they have lost quality players, they have top youth and experience replacing it. Just how quickly McGuinness can put that together into a cohesive unit will be the test. Tip: 5th
Coach: David Tanchevski (1st season). Losses: Josh Maguire (Weston), Jarryd Johnson, Todd McSorley, Josh Small. Gains: Ljubo Milicevic (Dandenong), Kane Goodchild, Scott Smith, Danny Ireland (Hamilton), Tom Smart (Lakes), Riley McNaughton (Jaffas), Daniel Minors (Valentine), Cal Lewis, Kev Davison. Key: Fitness. Milicevic, Goodchild, Ireland and Smith make the Blues threats but they could struggle, given their depth, if injuries hit. Tip: 6th
Coach: Darren Sills (3rd season). Losses: Jalon Brown, Alec Faulkner (not returning), Daniel Minors (Charlestown), Matt Paul, Scott McGinley, Reece Caira, Alex Tserepas. Gains: Joel Wood (Byron Bay), Daniel Ott (Narrabeen), Christian Kershaw (US), Aden Gardner (Edgeworth), Aaron Niyonkuru (Adamstown). Key: New blood: Valentine were big improvers in 2017 but have major outs, especially in Brown and Paul. The impact of Wood, Ott and Kershaw up front will be vital. Tip: 7th
Coaches: Labinot Haliti and Lawrie McKinna (2nd season). Key: Input. A-League players Mario Shabow, Kosta Petratos and Angus Thurgate will feature, but just how much will be vital. The loss of former Joeys striker Cameron Joice (US college) is a blow. Tip: 8th
Coach: Steve Piggott (2nd season). Losses: Jamie Byrnes, Jacob Golding (Edgeworth), Zac Thomas, James Thompson (Maitland), Greg Anderson, Jake Millstead. Gains: Josh Maguire (Charlestown), Kew Jaliens (retirement), Jamie Subat (Thornton), Nathan Morris (Jaffas), Regan Lundy (Jets Youth), Liam O’Reilly, Tega Adjeke. Key: Experience. Jaliens, Maguire, Subat and Morris give the wooden spooners what they’ve been missing, but they will have to play consistently to get them up the table. Tip: 9th
Coach: Nick Webb (1st season). Losses: Benn Kelly (Adamstown), Justin Broadley (Magic), Blake Green (Hamilton), Tom Smart (Charlestown), Matt Toohey, Josh West. Gains: Cameron Holzheimer, Mitch Hunter, Harry Lane (Adamstown), Paul Sichalwe (Magic), Mark Finlayson (Valentine), Campbell Ross (Jets Youth). Key: Walkers. Another rebuild at the Roosters but Sam and Tom Walker remain go-to men. Tip: 10th
Coach: Shane Cansdell-Sherriff (1st season). Losses: Aaron Niyonkuru (Valentine), Alex Read (Maitland), Cameron Holzheimer, Harry Lane, Mitch Hunter (Lakes), Paul Bitz (Magic), Stuart Musialik (Hamilton), Tom Beecham (Jets Youth). Gains: Benn Kelly (Lakes), Luke Rutledge, Thomas Carias-Cox (Hamilton), Jordan Elphick, Matt Sokulsky (Maitland), Ben Higgins (Magic). Key: Enthusiasm. Rebuilding Rosebud have added mostly players after time in first grade. Tip: 11th