Promotion to NPL1 brings a whole new scope to the NPL2 competition, with a cluster of clubs eyeing up a trip to the big time. Not for many years has the intensity been this high in the second tier, but who will stand up to the task ahead and who will wilt under the pressure? NPL2 expert Chris Webb guides us through the eight teams who are gunning for the top tier, with statistics provided by Russ Gibbs.
Head Coach: Adam CONDIPODERO
Last Season: 5th
If White Eagles are historically the standard bearer for this level of competition, ANU have certainly been the team to beat over the better part of the last decade amassing numerous premierships and championships in that time. With that said, their missing out on a finals spot in 2020 was more surprising, exposing just how brutal a slow start in a shortened season can be. Former coach Jim Dawson has departed to warmer pastures, leaving the godfather of ANU football, Adam Condipodero, to take the reins of a first grade side for the first time in his coaching career, after some phenomenally successful seasons coaching their reserves. Condi has been busy rebuilding the squad, most notably securing the return of three of ANU’s best performers in past seasons, in attacking fullback, James Gazy, goalkeeper Jake Bradley and the dynamic Sam Carters. The self-proclaimed “GoodBlokesFC” have also added powerful winger Carl Hynes to an already packed forward line which includes seasoned performers and former Golden Boot winners in Chase Deans and Rowan Peterkin and the extremely talented Max Mottl. Interestingly the students have also added another two strikers from State League in Cuynet Caglar and Liam Neeson, and both have ‘taken’ the chance to find the back of the net in preseason, showcasing the talent that exists in Canberra’s oft forgotten third tier. With attacking options galore, ANU’s ageless centre back talisman Jan Wojna, returns once more to provide defensive stability. Despite their early FFA Cup exit, the Students pre-season form has been impressive against NPL1 opposition and over a full season they will be quietly confident they will be fighting for the remaining two pieces of silverware.
In: Carl Hynes (Weston-Molonglo), James Gazy (Sabbatical), Sam Carters (Sydney CBD FC), Jake Bradley (Sabbatical), Liam Neeson (UC Stars) Cuynet Caglar (ANU State League), Nunzio Franco (Sabbatical)
Out: Liam Denvir (Interstate), Alex Ollman (Sabbatical), Andrew Manley (Sabbatical), Murph Shaw (Belconnen United), Blake Greenway (ANU State League)
v Tuggeranong United (a) L 2-3 (Carters, Neeson)
v West Canberra Wanderers (a) W 5-1 (Neeson, Hynes, Peterkin, Ellis, Caglar)
v Monaro Panthers (a) L 1-5 (Lopez)
FFA Cup v O’Connor Knights (h) L 1-2 (Wojna)
BRINDABELLA BLUES FC
Head Coach: Zoran GLAVINIC
Last Season: 8th
Brindabella Blues finished a rather disappointing season on a high note with an impressive victory over second placed Queanbeyan City FC. Zoran Glavinic has put his faith in the impressive youth production line at Brindabella, and his young side showed cleared signs of improvement even over the short season. The south Canberra club have lost former National Youth League player Jordan Host who has left town for University; however, he has held on to the Curtis Schaeffer, the former NPLY18 player of the year and Golden Boot, who showed in 2020 he is more than up for men’s football. Schaeffer will once again be partnered up front with Zac Lawrence and supported in midfield by James Menham and Dave Gurney. Zoran has brought in several talented players who have been out of the game for a short while as well as some talented players from the youth side, to bolster his ranks. The Blues have had interesting pre-season opposition including NSW NPL4 and Illawarra PL sides, and despite the results they have put in some impressive performances. While a top four finish will be difficult considering the opposition, it is not impossible, and if Zoran can instil his young side with real confidence, they will be more than a handful for every team they encounter.
In: Niko Blaskovic (sabbatical), Damien Corey (Returned from injury), Dennis Misic (Sabbatical), Zach Pagan (Sabbatical), Kenzo Sly-Umebayahsi (BBFC NPL18), Tom McGreal (BBFC NPL18), Koh Dewar (BBFC NPL18)
Out: Jordan Host (Interstate), Lucas Alcazar-Stevens (White Eagles), Sean Murphy (Sabbatical)
v Granville Rage (h) L 3-4
v Gungahlin United (a) L 1-5 (Schaeffer)
v Prospect United (a) L 1-2 (Misic)
v Wollongong United (a) L 0-4
CANBERRA WHITE EAGLES
Head Coach: Steve FORSHAW
Last Season: 4th, lost in Semi-Finals
For the traditional powerhouse of Canberra’s second tier, last season’s fourth place finish and failure to make the grand-final was enough to see Head Coach Graham Plath replaced with one of Canberra’s most successful coaches over the past two decades in Steve Forshaw. The Eagles have had a big turn-over in the off-season with seven of last year’s first grade squad not returning, including bustling striker David McCarron and speedy winger Alusine Grant who together scored over half (11) of White Eagles’ 21 goals last term. These goals are going to be difficult to replace, and while seven depart, ten new faces join, almost all with NPL1 experience. This includes two forwards coming in from Monaro Panthers in Ed McCarthy and Jayde James-Ward who will be expected to replace most of those lost goals. Towering midfielder Ohio Asikhia’s Yaya-Toure-esque box to box domination will be another hard felt absence as he recovers from an ACL injury sustained late last season. On a positive note, 2019 NPL2 Team-Of-The-Year member, Caleb Cullen-Rua re-joins after a one-year break to provide energy out wide. Their shock FFA Cup exit aside, White Eagles are almost penned in to finish the season in the top-four at this level of football (with 2017 the only blip in the last decade). With the squad Forshaw has put together, which includes seasoned stalwarts the Santrac brothers and Eric Bonnet, it’s difficult to predict anything less.
In: Osman Daramy (Monaro Panthers), Van Nguyen (Tuggeranong United), Ben Townsley-Mann (Weston-Molonglo), Kenrick Beuth (Woden-Weston), Ed McCarthy (Monaro Panthers), Yousif Mohamed (Gungahlin United), Caleb Cullen-Rua (Sabbatical), Lucas Alcazar-Stevens (Brindabella), David Rodriguez (Woden-Weston)
Out: Mitch Steenburgen (O’Connor Knights), David McCarron (O’Connor Knights), Alusine Grant (Interstate), Brad Moore (Sabbatical), Chris Nikitas (Sabbatical), Ohio Asikhia (Injured), Kamal Ahmed (Sabbatical)
v Monaro Panthers (a) L 1-2 (Mohamed)
v Tuggeranong United (a) L 2-3 (Townsley (p), Maxwell)
v Canberra Olympic (h) L 0-2
FFA Cup v Belnorth FC (h) L 0-2
v Albion Park White Eagles (a) L 1-4 (McCarthy)
O’CONNOR KNIGHTS FC
Head Coach: Miro TRNINIC
Last Season: 6th
Much was expected of the Knights in 2020 such was the amazing squad Miro Trninic put together. However along with COVID-19 and a truncated season came a fair bit of apathy from the Knights resulting in them falling well short of expectations, failing to make the finals. Miro has managed to keep a remarkably similar squad together, and while the losses of midfielders Marko Savkovic and Adam Seselja (a member of the 2019 NPL2 Team-Of-The-Year) will be felt, the knights have recruited well, with six players all with plenty of NPL1 experience. Most notably they have picked up midfield rock Liam Walsh from Gungahlin United and former Tigers FC and Tuggeranong United centre back Daniel Roberts. In 2020 there was a clear lack of striking talent which saw club captain and regular centre back Kynan Dodd play in the unfamiliar #9 role (albeit with some surprising success). The return to the club of Jake Wilsner, the return to fitness of speed merchant Josip Jadric and the introduction of Davy McCarron will mean the Knights will have plenty of goal scoring options this term, thus allowing captain Dodd to slot back into the backline. 2021 is a big year for the Knights who also see the introduction of teams in the inaugural NPL2 Youth competition, and there is no secret they will be looking for promotion to NPL1 in both youth and Men’s. On paper this is still one of the top two or three squads in the competition as such, like last year, expectations will once again be high.
In: Jason Denham (Sabbatical), Liam Walsh (Gungahlin United), Mitch Steenburgen (White Eagles), David McCarron (White Eagles), Jake Wilsner (Canberra City FC), Daniel Roberts (Sabbatical), Jayde James-Ward (Monaro Panthers Panthers)
Out: Adam Seselja (O’Connor Knights Community League), Aldi Cummings (Sabbatical), Dean Tomeski (Queanbeyan City), Marko Savkovic (Sabbatical), Mitch Iredale (Southern Tablelands United), Rob Hristic (Sabbatical)
v Tigers FC (a) L 1-7 (Kresic)
v Gungahlin United (a) L 0-1
v Canberra Olympic (h) L 0-4
FFA Cup v ANU FC (a) W 2-1 (Jadric, Dodd)
QUEANBEYAN CITY FC
Head Coach: Gaby WILK
Last Season: 2nd, lost in Semi-Finals
What do you do when you miss out on the premiership by just 3 points? Well obviously, you ring in changes to the tune of 14 new players, which is exactly what new Head Coach Gaby Wilk has done. Gaby is a legend of Canberra football both as a player and coach, and brings a wealth of knowledge, as well as players, to an already strong City side. Wilk joins City after a long stint as Tigers FC NPL1 Head Coach and there is no coincidence that no less than seven former Tigers FC players have joined their former coach. This includes two of Canberra’s top marksmen in recent history in Mark Shields and Alex Oloriegbe who have over 200 first grade goals between them, and arguably Canberra’s best goalkeeper in Rory Larkin. Much is expected of former NSW NPL1 player Emmanuel Ponce, the Chilean not only brings creativity and finesse, but guile and a willingness to pull his finger out and get stuck in. The jewel in the crown however is likely to be the immensely talented Michael Adams, who is likely to cause havoc for oppositions operating in the pocket between the opposing defence and midfield. Last year’s squad was already full of talents such as Goran Mukevski and Dejan Nedeski as such Wilk will have quite a job on his hands managing the dressing room. On paper this is one of the best squads ever assembled at this level, and preseason form has shown they are performing at an NPL1 level. There has been heavy investment in this squad and with that comes enormous expectations, and anything less than a premiership and promotion will be failure. Wilk however is a proven winner, so he is the right man for the job.
In: Scott Fagerlund (Huskisson Vincentia), Dean Tomeski (O’Connor Knights), Hussain Fureje (Tigers FC), Mark Shields (Tigers FC), Goran Josifovski (Tigers FC), Michael Kita (Tigers FC), Jordan Landó (Gerringong Breakers), Michael Adams (Gungahlin United), Alex Oloriegbe (Tigers FC), Rory Larkin (Canberra Olympic), Joda Gonzalez (Belconnen United), Osazuwa Akioya (Sabbatical), Emmanuel Ponce (Hawksbury City FC)
Out: Federico Contarino (Left Australia), Igor Nedeski (Injured), Jon Kersberg (Canberra Olympic)
v West Canberra Wanderers (H) L 3-5 (Adams, Shields (2))
v Warilla Wanderers (a) W 3-2 (Nedeski, Shields (2))
v Canberra Olympic (h) W 3-2 (Shields (3, 1p))
v LFC Sports (h) W 1-0 (Srbinoski)
v Coniston FC (a) L 5-6 (Adams (3), Fureje, Angelkoski)
v Gungahlin United (h) D 1-1 (Srbinoski)
v Belnorth FC(h) W 3-1 (Fureje, Tomeski, Josifovski)
WAGGA CITY WANDERERS
Head Coach: Dave LEONARD
Last Season: 3rd, Champions
After their heroic grand-final victory, there is much pressure on the Wanderers to see if they can back it up or whether they were a flash in the pan. Championship winning-coach Michael Babic departs, and David Leonard is now in the difficult position of trying to emulate last year’s success. The Wagga outfit has seen considerable change with a massive nine players departing including two Canberra football greats in Matt Menser and Carl Pedeski. Their experience and guidance are irreplaceable while Menser’s goals (the highest for Wagga last term) will also be tough to replace. Gone are also the heroes of the grand-final, the Brooker brothers, Isaac, and Elijah, who are now plying their trade in the Victorian NPL. The departing players were responsible for 18 of Wagga’s 26 goals last term, however there is still firepower left in the form of returning marksman Jake Ploenges, Luke Stevens, Anoti Matowe, Jacob Ochieng and the young Samson Lucas who moves up from the NPL18s. Leonard has recruited mainly from the local Pascoe Cup, investing heavily in youth, and while this looks like a re-building year, the Wagga faithful are quietly confident they have a squad ready to challenge for the top four once again.
In: Alvaro Kelechi (Henwood Park FC), Tin-Kit Tam (Henwood Park FC), James Thomson (Henwood Park FC), Jake Ploenges (Henwood Park FC), Ben Mavor (Lake Albert Sharks)
Brad Yeomans (Henwood Park FC)
Out: Matt Menser (Henwood Park FC), Carl Pedeski (Sabbatical), Dylan Berkrey (Left Wagga) William Shuttleworth (Left Wagga), Isaac Brooker (Ballarat City FC), Elijah Brooker (Ballarat City FC), Tyler Allen (Injured), Zach Pinney (Left Wagga), Sam Jones (Playing Aussie Rules)
v Hanwood United (h) W 3-2 (Stevens, Moffat, Ochieng)
v Albury Hotspurs (h) W 6-1 (Kelechi (2), Ochieng (2), Tam, Stevens)
FFA Cup v Majura FC (h) W 2-1 (Lucas (2))
CS v Canberra Croatia (a)
Head Coach: Ned JEANES
Last Season: 7th
Ned Jeanes’ side has seen an enormous turnover with over half of last season’s squad not returning in ‘21. Last season’s 7th place finish was some-what disappointing for a club who has been regularly featuring in post-season football, with injuries to key players derailing some well laid plans. There were however some positives from 2020 as the Magpies were undefeated to both last season’s premiers and champions (being the only side to beat Yoogali in 90 minutes with some outstanding coaching on display). The failure of co-captain and classy midfielder Ryan Hawkins to recover from injury is an enormous loss to the squad. The biggest loss, however, may just come in the form of their reigning player of the season: centre-back Ben Greig, who stepped down to the club’s State League side after 13 seasons with the top side at the club (or sister club Woden-Weston). Jeanes has however recruited well eight new recruits, notably powerful centre half Rory Evans and play-maker Loay Alsubhi. 2019 NPL2 Team-Of-The-Year member Sam McLachlan returns to add some creativity, State League 1 golden-boot Abderrahim Dellahi should bring some goals. A top four finish will be far from easy, however this team features talent across the park, with a load of NPL1 (or equivalent) experience and they will be eyeing September football.
In: Rory Evans (Coniston FC), Nathan Readman (Monaro Panthers), Loay Alsubhi (Monaro Panthers), Abderrahim Dellahi (Woden Valley SC), Liam Boyle (Narrabundah FC), Geordie Freeman (Narrabundah FC), Sam McLachlan (Sabbatical), Angus Reckord (Parra Hills West FC)
Out: Ben Greig (Weston-Molonglo State League), Ryan Hawkins (Injured), Jack Salmann (Sabbatical), Harrison Wright (Sabbatical), Tim Dehealan (Sabbatical), Carl Hynes (ANU FC), Ben Townsley-Mann (White Eagles), Juan Mancilla (Gungahlin Juventus), Matt Hess (Majura FC)
v Canberra Croatia FC (a) L 0-8
v Warilla Wanderers SC (a) L 1-3 (A. Sellars)
FFA Cup v Woden Valley (a) W 6-1 (Dellahi, Blount (2, 1p), A. Sellars (3))
v Tuggeranong United (h) L 1-3
Head Coach: Luke SANTOLIN
Last Season: Premiers, Grand-Final Runners-Up
While they may have had some element of surprise in 2020, the lads from Griffith come into this season with huge targets on their backs as the reigning premiers. Although they will be looking to erase the pain of their agonising penalty shootout loss in last season’s grand-final, Luke Santolin’s chargers know the real game is a repeat of their premiership and with-it promotion into NPL1. Amazingly Santolin was able to keep hold of his entire title winning squad, and that stability may indeed prove to be priceless. Their preseason form has been top-notch, notably their comprehensive FFA Cup victory against an incredibly talented Gungahlin Juventus side. Diminutive striker Danny Roche has picked up where he left off as the Irishman, who was last season’s golden-boot winner, bagged himself an FFA Cup brace. Not to be out done, Mitch Bagiante, who was Roche’s closest competitor in the league for the golden-boot in 2020, also grabbed a brace. Adding in silky Scottish winger Calvin Roddie, Yoogali have a top level front-line that will trouble every opposition defence this season.
As reigning premiers in hot pre-season form there is no doubt this is the team to beat, however there are plenty of other sides who have worked hard in the offseason to bridge the gap.
In: Squnny KHERA, Ruben DONADEL, Troy LANDINI, Darian LE CORNU, Darcy MOON, Jack MOON, Will PIVA
Out: Samuel RACITI (University), Samuel SCARFONE (University)
v Boomers FC (a) W 5-1 (Roche (3), Preece (2))
FFA Cup v Gungahlin Juventus (a) W 6-0 (Roche (2), Bagiante (2, 1p), I. Donadel, Vecchi (og))