The time for talking is over and a new era of NPL football begins in Canberra with a quartet of matches to set the pulses racing to kick-start the 2022 campaign.
The league champions, Tigers FC, begin the defence of their crown when they welcome Gungahlin United to their temporary home of AIS Grass 1 with the double-winners from 2022 licking their wounds from a chastening pre-season.
Things couldn’t have been worse in the build-up to the new season for the Tigers who saw their hopes of an Australia Cup three-peat dashed at the first hurdle by Canberra Olympic off the back of a humbling evening in the Charity Shield against the Monaro Panthers.
Losing central defensive lynchpin Lachlan Griffith was a massive blow, and Ryan Grogan, the Tigers Head Coach, will be looking at the experienced Lasse Olrik to fill the void. Historically, Gunners tend to do poorly from home against the Tigers, the Gunners having only won once in an official away game in the NPL era.
Gunners suffered their own Cup heartbreak and were surprisingly thumped by CPL Tuggeranong United in their final pre-season outing. Marcial Munoz team however have strength in key areas and will be eyeing off an away win, at the venue where they played most of their home matches in 2021, to start 2-022 off on the right foot.
Over at McKellar Park, Belconnen United, under their new head-man Michael Zakoski, roll out the red carpet to the Monaro Panthers, but its likely to be anything but a friendly welcome on the pitch for Frank Cachia and his team with the Blue Devils appearing to be in fine shape.
Zakoski has brought in a raft of young players into his new-look squad, players who will be complimentary to the style of football that he is trying to implement at McKellar. Cachia has had a similar idea at the Panthers and, early indications are, that he has fond a blend of highly-mobile technically efficient individuals who could well propel the NSW-based team into title contention in 2022.
The Panthers have never won an NPL point away to Belconnen, never mind a match, having suffered nine straight defeats to the Blue Devils on their own patch since the formation of the NPL in 2013 with their goal there in a 2-1 loss last season the Panthers first in an away fixture against Belconnen since 2014. They’ll obviously need to rectify that to come away with a first day win.
The ‘Canberra Classico’ is back at O’Connor Enclosed on Saturday afternoon with the two most storied clubs in the national capital going toe-to-toe in a first round blockbuster. Canberra Olympic like playing Canberra Croatia but, unfortunately for Robbie Cattanach and his men, it’s generally at Deakin Stadium that they have the most success.
Olympic cruised into the Australia Cup Quarter Finals with their new-look line-up disposing of current cup holders Tigers FC and Cattanach will have been thrilled with the way his new recruits seamlessly integrated into the squad with devastating effect.
Croatia meanwhile saw their cup hopes extinguished but have recruited solidly and Dean Ugrinic will be looking for his new men to blend with the proven winners he already has in his match squad. You can never write off Croatia, and their record at O’Connor is very good. Whilst the first match doesn’t define the campaign, it can set a team up for the term, so expect fireworks in this one.
The West Canberra Wanderers versus O’Connor Knights match has been postponed due to Covid protocols.
Saturday 2 April 2022
Canberra Olympic v Canberra Croatia (O’Connor Enclosed, 15:00)
Belconnen United v Monaro Panthers (McKellar Park, 15:00)
Tigers FC v Gungahlin United (AIS Grass 1, 15:00)
West Canberra Wanderers v O’Connor Knights – Match Postponed due to Covid protocols
MATCHES ARE STREAMED LIVE ON NPL.TV