Tigers FC will be aiming to get their NPL defence on track when they make the trip to Deakin Stadium on Saturday afternoon to meet Canberra Croatia for what is always one of the most highly-anticipated matches of the season.
Goals are usually a given when this pair meet and with the Tigers coming into the game off the back of a superb come-from-behind draw against Gungahlin United, an exciting encounter should be in store. That point showed huge character and determination from Ryan Grogan’s team after a very difficult pre-season, and they will be looking to replicate the success they enjoyed over Croatia at the AIS Synthetic last time around.
Croatia meanwhile saw their season kick-off deferred, their match with Canberra Olympic in Round 1 being postponed, and therefore Dean Ugrinic and his squad will be champing at the bit to get going. Deakin Stadium can be an unforgiving place for visiting teams and Tigers haven’t won a league match there since 2016. Memories of a successful Cup Final in 2019 though still loom large.
Another team who had to wait for their NPL return was O’Connor Knights, and their 13-year hiatus from the op flight should finally be put to bed when they host Canberra Olympic in the O’Connor Derby at the Enclosed ground in that suburb. Neither team saw action in Round 1, but both have been in good pre-season nick, so should be ready for a ding-dong affair.
Knights’ supporters have been waiting for this moment for a generation, the chance to host a top-flight NPL match and showcase their raucous home support on a national stage in front of the NPL.TV cameras. However, playing away from home at their usual home venue will mean Olympic’s young charges won’t be daunted by the challenge.
The third fixture scheduled for Saturday afternoon will take place on Melrose Synthetic where West Canberra Wanderers will welcome Belconnen United. Covid protocols meant the Wanderers were unable to take part in Round 1, their match against the Knights was cancelled, so they come into the game having not played since their memorable 3-2 Australia Cup Qualifying success over Canberra Croatia.
The Blue Devils new dawn was unceremoniously snuffed out by Monaro Panthers at McKellar Park last weekend, but the home side showed enough quality in the he build-up to suggest that, if they get the final third correct, then they could certainly pose a threat to every opposition.
The Wanderers meanwhile will be an interesting watch. They showed some excellent qualities in the win over Croatia in the Australia Cup, combining neat, intricate build-up with more ferociousness in the tackle that surprised their opponents. They’ll need more of the same against Belconnen if they are to get their season off to a winning start.
The Monaro Panthers will be out to follow up their three goal win over the Blue Devils by going two from two, but that is far from a given against Gungahlin United who will have been disappointed not to claim all three points against the Tigers after leading 2-0 early in the piece.
The fixture has been moved from the AIS to Gungahlin Enclosed, and the Panthers last trip there, in the Charity Shield, showcased their ability to play attractive, attacking football on the wide-open swathes of that venue. The Gunners will need to win the midfield battle, a part of the game in which Frank Cachia’s team have excelled so far in 2022, to force a result.
Striker Philippe Bernabo-Madrid is likely to be missing, nursing a hamstring strain, and his absence might force a re-think in the Gunners’ tactical plans. The Panthers have attacking threats of their own and the Monaro supporters will be hoping to see their big guns fore again in Round 2.
Saturday 9 April
West Canberra Wanderers v Belconnen United (Melrose Synthetic, 14:15)
O’Connor Knights v Canberra Olympic (O’Connor Enclosed, 15:00)
Canberra Croatia v Tigers FC (Deakin Stadium, 17:00)
Sunday 10 April
Gungahlin United v Monaro Panthers (Gungahlin Enclosed, 15:00)
MATCHES ARE STREAMED LIVE ON NPL.TV