ST GEORGE CITY KICK OFF SEASON THIS WEEKEND

The arduous pre-season is finally over, the playing surfaces have been either neatly trimmed (or watered if it’s an artificial surface) and the brand new playing strips have arrived – that’s right, football is back with a bang, as we eagerly await the much anticipated start of the PlayStation®4 National Premier Leagues 3 NSW Men’s competition.

For the fans who cannot get enough, there will be more to cheer about this season – more football that is, as the competition has been extended by two clubs to now include fourteen (14) clubs in total, meaning a weekly ‘bread-and-butter’ competition of 26 rounds of football, up from the 22 rounds of previous seasons. The year will then culminate in a six team finals series to determine the grand final winners at the back end of 2017.

But there is plenty of football to be played before September, so let’s take a brief look at how the teams are shaping up after an off season of player and coaching movements galore.

We will miss the scintillating football displayed by the Hills Brumbies, who were rewarded for their efforts on and off the park in 2016 with promotion to the PlayStation 4 NPL 2 NSW Men’s league, and we wish them all the very best in their endeavours.

Many of the old protagonists will be going around again in the PS4 NPL 3 competition, but more about them later, as the competition throws out the welcome mat to three new participants in the league.

Fraser Park FC have dropped down from the PS4 NPL NSW Men’s 2, but will be making every effort to return at the first attempt if their personnel have anything to do with it.

One of Fraser’s strengths lies in the fact that they have retained one of the most astute and experienced coaches in the game. Branko Culina needs no introduction, having coached at the highest level in Australia, and his tactical prowess will go a long way to determining the club’s fate. Branko will in fact be sharing the coaching responsibilities with sons, Jason and Dean, each combining their extensive knowledge to help the club to immediate success.

Nick Dimitropoulos has stayed on and will lead the troops around the park as skipper, whilst Peter Crevani, Jordan Simpson, Nathan Sansom, and clinical finisher, Ben Vidaic, provide a fierce and determined backbone to the side.

New signings include Tai Smith, a striker who has joined from Bankstown Berries, defender Farres Aoun from Rydalmere Lions, and goal keeper, Anthony Costa, from Hakoah Sydney City East in NSW’s top tier competition, who will no doubt provide some stern resistance for opposition strikers between the sticks.

Make no mistake, Fraser Park are hurting from their relegation to the PS4 NPL 3 NSW Men’s competition. The fact that they have retained the bulk of their squad, coupled with extensive know how from the bench, reflects a desire to make things right, and promotion at the first attempt will no doubt be one of the main objectives in 2017 for all involved.

One of two clubs promoted from the State League Men’s competition is St George City FA.

St George City FA also have plenty of experience at hand, on as well as off the park, with Manny Spanoudakis once again taking the reins of the senior team, and Aytek Genc at the helm.

St George City FA have retained the bulk of their 2016 squad, although midfielder, Adrian Webster, moves from the playing roster to a role assisting with the coaching.

The front third has been strengthened by two key additions. Aleksander Jovovic, having previously played with Sutherland Sharks in the PS4 NPL NSW Mens’ competition, will give the side some speed, whilst Juan Chavez is an experienced and deadly striker in and around the penalty box.

The spine of the side is as strong as ever, starting with the centre back pairing of captain, Bill Tsanidis, and Chris Lawson. Nicholas Napoli provides the tenacity and work rate in the midfield, and there is not too many more frightening sights than having Sam Messam running at you in attack.

St George City FA managed a Premiership / Championship double at their first attempt in last year’s State League, capping their remarkable season with promotion to the PS4 NPL 3 NSW Men’s competition.

But even though they may be new to this league as a club entity, the combination of Spanoudakis’ coaching know-how from the bench, couple with a varied and experienced playing roster, will mean St George will be ready to take the competition by storm in 2017.

Playing out of Ernie Smith Reserve at Moorebank will be another of the league’s newcomers, SD Raiders FC.

The Raiders are a very ambitious club, and in line with their minimal annual attrition rate, have retained most of the players that gave the club finals football in 2016 in the State League. In fact, the Raiders scored 82 goals last season, no less, at an average of almost 4 goals per game, and will no doubt be looking to frighten some teams on the counter.

Diego Machuca is back as coach and will hope to continue endorsing an attacking philosophy, whilst goalkeeper, Tomi Romic, will captain the side in his fifth year at the club.

Expect a real presence in central defence with the evergreen Mark D’Alessandro marshalling his team mates across the backline, and his partnership with Matty Morrison will prove a tough one to penetrate for central strikers.

Granville Rage pair, Dylan Stivala and Daniel Bittar, have signed up for 2017 and will add some skill and speed in the front third, whilst the club also welcomes Japanese import, Mitsuki Nakada, and centre forward, Carlos Enwiya.

The club have been solid performers in recent seasons, but have also been somewhat of perennial bridesmaids. SD Raiders have set the bar high this season, and even though they have been promoted in to the division, they are looking for finals football at a minimum, with an eye on the club championship.

Balmain Tigers FC finished the 2016 season much stronger than they started, and will be hoping to build on that form in the opening weeks of this campaign.

Coach Steliy Georgiou remains to help that transition take effect, and has been busy blending the new recruits to the existing playing personnel.

Matthew Casali takes over the armband duties, whilst new signings, Harry Brown and Nathan Lopino, will look to steady the defensive line.

But a key signing for the Tigers is the return of a former star of the club.

Striker Rosario Occhipinti has been a regular goal scorer at this level for a number of years now, and his penalty area prowess will be a valuable asset for a team that struggled to find the net consistently last season.

Tenacious midfielder, Joshua Spina, is another to look out for. Having suffered a major injury a couple of seasons back, Spina has recovered and will be better off for his run in 2016, adding a fierce work rate – as well as an eye for goal – to a relatively young midfield.

Whilst continuing to play some of their home games at the iconic Wentworth Park, look out for an improved showing from the Balmain Tigers in 2017.

Dulwich Hill FC will be looking to rise to former heights after a disappointing 2016 season, the club’s tenth place finish well below the expectations of the Dully faithful.

Mark Strachan has the coaching reins, and will hope to use his experience to motivate and awaken the inner west giant.

Strachan has been very busy on the recruitment trail, with some notable signings including ex-NPL top tier players, Nathan Bowden-Haase from Hakoah Sydney City East and Luke Giverin, a former Manchester United youth product from Manly United.

Ex-Bankstown City Lions striker, Gerard Ouffoue, will add value in the attacking third, as will ex-Spirit duo, Mark Mcalpine and Henry Wells.

Experienced shot stopper, Michael Frost, has been instrumental in many of Dully’s performances in recent seasons, and he will skipper the side in what looks like a promising season in 2017.

Finals football is a target at a minimum, but the club is quietly confident that they can return to former glory, so expect a rejuvenated effort from everyone at Arlington Oval.

One of the more consistent performers in 2016 were Dunbar Rovers FC, and you could be right to expect more of the same from the club again this year, given the high application to the task at hand on and off the park.

However new coach, Mike Dixon, and new captain, Paul Rawlings, have the challenge on their hands to find cohesion in the new squad following the exodus of the majority of the first team from what was a successful and effective first up showing in this division in 2016.

Two of their more influential players last campaign are just a couple of players who have moved on – skipper Robbie Deasy, and industrious midfielder Andrew Doddy – both involved in many of the team’s attacking forays during a successful tilt last year, and both moving to St George FC in the PS4 NPL 2 competition. Midfielder Sean Burke has moved to Dulwich Hill, whilst experienced central defender Clive Delaney has retired from the game at this level.

One player who has moved on but is classified as a success story as far as the club are concerned is young winger, Robert Ezekiel. Having previously transferred to Dunbar from Hakoah’s U/20s, Ezekiel was thrust in to a first grade environment at Rovers, and following on from a successful and effective season, primarily on the right flank, Ezekiel has now transferred back to Hakoah for the upcoming PS4 NPL NSW Men’s season.

Amongst the plenty of new faces at the club are the strong tackling Rocci Gabey in defence, attacking midfielder, Hezio Silva from St George FA, ex-Sydney Olympic and APIA Leichhardt Tigers striker, Tod Bamber, whilst the club is quietly excited about Alex Crane, a speedy winger who shone in the Illawarra Premier League in 2016.

Being a club with a strong disciplined culture that crosses it’s ‘t’s and dots it’s ‘i’s, it would be difficult to imagine finals football without Dunbar Rovers. They will definitely be in a ‘rebuilding’ stage in 2017, but knowing the Dunbar contingent, they won’t be settling for just that as a sole objective.

Gladesville Ryde Magic FC have been there, done that, and have all of the experience on and off the park to give the league a shake, if it all comes together.

George Ganiatsas is ‘Mr Football’ at the club, and continues to overview an experienced team of passionate staff that keep the grassroots club performing week in, week out.

The Magic raided the ‘Hawks’ nest’ somewhat in the off season, with experienced defender, Yorgi Mavrou, left back Bibek Panta, and lightning quick winger, Heo Wookbum, all transferring to Gladesville in lieu of a new challenge.

Player-coach Kyriakos Tohouroglou will again use his experience to rally the troops, backing up as goalkeeper extraordinaire after four successive years of winning the ‘Goalkeeper of the Year’ Award.

Chris Tomaras is again the play-maker to watch, a man who only scores brilliant goals, backed up by skipper, Chris Gaitatzis, who had a superb individual season last year, whilst

Peter Voukidis has been ear marked as a young striker to watch.

Magic finished last season one spot outside the finals, so improvement and finals football is definitely on the menu this campaign.

Granville Rage FC play out of the historic Garside Park and will be hoping to emulate former glories when the 2017 season takes shape this weekend.

Despite scoring two goals per game on average last season, the Granville defence leaked far too many as the club finished the season in a disappointing eleventh position.

Two of a few players who have moved on are dynamic attackers, Alistair McKie and Zac Watters, both instrumental in many of the team’s attacking forays during 2016.

But this campaign shows much more promise given some key signings in the off season, notably players with plenty of experience, and players who have been there and done that.

The value of having two brothers will be on show as Goran and Slaven Ljuboja link up after some time playing at separate clubs, whilst Thierry Huet adds value across a number of different roles.

A big signing for the club and someone who will add a steely presence to the backline is Patrick Gatt, of ex-Parramatta FC and ex-Blacktown City fame, and Gatt will also take on the captaincy role as he looks to marshal the team towards a better showing in 2017.

One team who has threatened to huff and puff in recent seasons but can’t seem to blow the house down is Hawkesbury City FC.

Coach Dean Bertenshaw has experience coaching at a higher level, and has managed over recent seasons to assemble a competitive and stubborn side.

But a range of factors such as injuries and suspensions has meant that he has been unable to field his best eleven for any sustained period. On their day, the Hawks can be a match for any side, evident last season when they were the only side that promoted Hills Brumbies could not beat.

This season the side is pretty much ‘same old, same old’, with only silky midfielder, Evan Daglis, and big centre back, Tim Harrington (retired), missing from the fray.

Much of their performances will depend on the team’s co captains and book ends – keeper Daniel Schwarzer and central striker, Mick McCrory – whilst speedy winger, Kosta Zarafetas, will be a youngster to look out for.

A great coup for grassroots football has been the promotion of local boy, Matthew Marshall, a utility whose performances for local side, Penrith Football Club, has seen the 26-year-old catapulted in to Federation football.

If his Hawks can stay clear of injuries, expect ‘Berto’s’ boys to figure prominently come season end.

The mercurial Lachlan Wright of Futsalroos fame will again don the player-coaching responsibilities in 2017 at Inter Lions SC, hoping he can steer the club to a finals football appearance after having eluded them over recent seasons.

Joe Ciano has moved from the backline to the bench in an assistant role to Wright, whilst the big news is the return of the prodigal son, with Adrian Vizzari dusting off the boots after a season or two away from the game.

The experienced Vizzari will bring plenty of composure and passion back to the mix, looking to shore up the defence, by pairing up with new signing, James McGuire.

Daniel Fornito has departed for different pastures, but Inter will have plenty of firepower at their disposal, with speedster Daniel Fogarty again leading the line, ably supported by young winger, Eric Tomasek.

Fogarty was the go to man last year for Inter, his tricky feet and speed to burn proving a menace for all defences that faced him.

Inter Lions will need some improved application to reach the finals, but they are looking beyond this as an objective – they are hoping for a good showing across all grades to continue their incline as a club overall.

Rydalmere Lions FC were one of the powerhouses of last season in more ways than one, including a famous Grand Final triumph over Hills Brumbies, and earned the tag of the ‘entertainers’ with Tony Basha’s high intensity attacking play.

Basha will rule the roost again at Rydalmere, but they have lost a player or two, notably the experience of last season’s co-captains – busy midfielder Shane Webb, and impact striker, Lloyd Owusu.

Matthew Mayora takes on the responsibility of the armband, and he’ll transition in to that role easily given his notable presence on the park last season, primarily from central defence.

Goal scoring midfielder, Seiji Tarutani, has returned to Japan, whilst central defender, Daisan Kim, has departed to join the Blacktown Spartans.

But Zac Elrich and Amary Gauthier have remained, and will look to mesmerise defensive lines once again, together with a pair of new signings from Granville Rage, Alistair McKie and Zac Watters.

A major coup for Rydalmere has been the acquisition of former Socceroo and ex-Fulham star, Ahmad Elrich, and he will bring a wealth of top flight experience as well as attacking flair to a side already bursting with options in the front third.

Keep an eye out for young 19-year-old, Mitchell Gibbs, a midfielder who has returned from a spell in Europe, and a player who has already been finding the net in pre-season.

Rydalmere Lions look a formidable unit on paper, but acknowledge that they will feel the impact of losing years of experience across the park with the departure of some players. It just wouldn’t be the same without Rydalmere entertaining us during the finals – time will tell if they can consolidate their new roster, and achieve even more in 2017.

After a very successful and consistent 2016, Stanmore Hawks FC will be hard pressed to replicate those efforts given an exodus of the bulk of their starting squad.

Captain courageous, Steve Liavas, is recovering from a major knee injury sustained late in the season, whilst (PS4 NPL 3 Goalkeeper of the Year) James Webb, Sergio Tarazona, Bibek Panta, Domenic Tripodi and Heo Wookbum have all departed.

New coach, Brian Baker, will try to instil a steely consistency across his side, lead no doubt by new captain, Ian Hillier, who’s had experience playing in the UK.

The club’s biggest coup has been penning the signature of the evergreen Lloyd Owusu, the big number nine moving over from Rydalmere Lions. Owusu has experience to burn, his strength and know-how around the penalty area unravelling many a defensive line over recent years. One of the players who will no doubt benefit from Owusu’s value will be raw youngster, Michael Toscano, a striker with speed and aggression and an eye for a half chance.

After a playing restructure, and focussing on development right through from the youth in to grade, the club will be hoping to stabilise their performance again in 2017 and be playing finals football once again come September.

Another club who have had a refresh of their playing roster is Sydney University SFC.

Coach Andrew Prentice has looked to freshen things up a little, and brought in some promising youngsters from the NPL1 U/20s frame, giving the side a youthful and energetic look.

But they do have some big shoes to fill, starting with the mercurial Tommy Hyde, who has been a stalwart of the club in recent years at right back, and an inspirational leader, moving into an admin role within the club. Nathan Amore looks like an able replacement at right back, whilst fierce central defender, Josh Karpes, takes on the armband responsibilities.

Striker Scott Tonkin’s exploits in 2016 created an interest from many clubs, and he decided in the end to move to the North Shore Mariners, whilst fellow attackers, Rosario Occhipinti and Johnny Gowdy, have also both departed, along with midfield dynamo, Gavin Wenyon.

Jacob Di Mento comes back in to the midfield, joining up again with brother Domenic, after needing 2016 to recover from a serious injury, and his ball winning ability will be greatly appreciated.

The ‘students’ surprised a few people last season when they squeezed in to the finals, and in the end, they were a coat of paint away from a Grand Final berth when they hit the post in the final minute of the Preliminary Final against Rydalmere.

Don’t be surprised if the students have learned their lesson from 2016 and are able to replicate or better their efforts of the last campaign.

A club looking to learn from their 2016 season and get off on the front foot is Western NSW Mariners FC.

The Mariners held up the competition for the best part of last season, but did enough on more than one occasion to show they had the potential to upset many an apple cart.

Matthew Corben, Kenny McCall and keeper extraordinaire, Adam Brackenridge, have all moved on, and will leave a big hole to fill across the park.

The club has signed two brothers with ability to burn – Milton Dellerba is a solid striker, whilst brother Alejandro has the typical skills of an Argentinian playmaker.

Big things are expected of young 19-year-old left back, Jackson Fuda, who has moved through the junior ranks somewhat to land his first initial grade contract.

The club will be looking towards experience on and off the park to steer them away from the basement of the league.

Coach Andrew Fearnley has plenty of experience coaching, and coaching at this level, and knows what is required to put together a side that will compete week in, week out.

Captaining the side once again will be Adam Scimone, a player with plenty of desire and who defies his 32 years with a high work rate. Scimone will have some extra motivation to play for this season – his wife Isabella just this week has given birth to their first child, Messina, so a big congratulations goes out to the Scimone clan from all at Football NSW.

The Mariners will hope to turn their home matches in to nightmare trips for any visiting sides, and surprise a few teams on their very own travels to the big smoke, so expect an improved showing in 2017.

Original story: www.footballnsw.com.au