2016 NPL Queensland Season Preview

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After a long off-season over the summer months, the third edition of the National Premier League’s (NPL) Queensland kicks off this weekend with plenty of intrigue surrounding it.

Since last Septembers Grand Final which saw Moreton Bay Jets complete a seasons double there’s been a host of moves which have shaken up the competition, moves which promise to make this years competition even more competitive.

Today we take a look at how the clubs shape up ahead of the new campaign, and assess the chances of each side ahead of round one.

Brisbane City
2015 Finish: 9th
Manager: John Kosmina

Notable Ins: Greg King (Brisbane Strikers), Scot Coulson (Brisbane Strikers), Jason Park (Bankstown City- NPL NSW), Samuel Sibatuara (Brisbane Roar youth), Luke Pavlou (Brisbane Roar youth).
Notable Outs: Matt Stein (Moreton Bay), Curran Ferns (Johor), Chris Toovey (Retired).

It’s been a summer of change at Spencer Park with City’s squad receiving a substantial overhaul as new boss John Kosmina seeks to secure the Newmarket based clubs first finals appearance.

City’s recruitment has been particularly strong, with King and Coulson playing a big part in the Strikers’ run to the Grand Final, while Sibatuara and Pavlou were a big part of the Roar’s youth setup in previous seasons. Add in the experience and firepower of Englishman Antonio Murray upfront and City on paper at least look to be amongst the favourites.

A lot will be expected of the new looked City who finished 9th last season, particularly given the appointment of Kosmina as manager. Given the recruitment and strength of squad, a finals berth will be the minimum expectation, with perhaps one eye on a maiden FFA Cup Round of 32 appearance as well. Prediction: 2nd.

Brisbane Roar Youth
2015 Finish: 6th
Manager: Josh McCloughan

Notable Ins: Andre Jannese (Melbourne Victory Youth- NPL Victoria), Mark Rodic- (Blacktown City- NPL NSW), Joseph Champness (Moreton Bay), Jayden Prasad (Redlands), Ajdin Fetahagic (Western Pride Velez Mostar- Bosnia).

Notable Outs: Denver Crickmore, Stephen O’Neill, Conor O’Neill, Patrick Theodore, Abrahim Yango (All Released), Jordan Lampard (Hume City- NPL Victoria), Luke Pavlou, Samuel Sibatuara (Brisbane City), Shelford Dais (Brisbane Strikers).

The Young Roar have spent the summer competing in the nationwide National Youth League, where they finished runners up in Conference B with some strong performances along the way. Amongst the highlights for the Roar was a 10-0 demolition of eventual conference winner Adelaide.

The squad has received a massive overhaul since the end of last season where the Roar finished up in sixth place. Out go Yango, Theodore, Sibatuara, Pavlou, Dais, Lampard, Ludwik and the O’Neill twins as the Roar seek to focus on developing youngsters capable of joining their A-League squad in future seasons.

With that in mind, new boss Josh McCloughan has cast his net far and wide, picking up some of the best youngsters across the state with attackers Champness, Sawyer and Prasad all arriving from rivals in the summer. Add in former AIS keeper Andre Jannese and Joey’s captain Joe Caletti to last those that remain such as captain Mitch Hore and striker Nick D’Agostino and it looks a strong group. Prediction: 8th.

Brisbane Strikers
2015 Finish: 2nd
Manager: Kevin Ahern-Evans

Notable Ins: Jake McLean (Oakleigh- NPL Victoria), Rhys Meredith (Olympic), Sebastian Usai (Free Agent), Shaun Carlos (Lions FC- Brisbane Premier League), Shelford Dais (Brisbane Roar Youth).

Notable Outs: Apia Ukuno (Moreland City- NPL Victoria), Fraser Chalmers (Melbourne Knights- NPL Victoria), Greg King, Scot Coulson (Brisbane City), Josh McVey (Mitchelton- Brisbane Premier League), David Salin (Peninsula Power- Brisbane Premier League), Josh Ahern (Lions FC- Brisbane Premier League), Jheison Macuace (Released).

Last seasons’ beat Grand Finalists will be desperate to go one step further this time around and pick up their first NPL crown. Last season was something of a mixed bag for the Strikers, who failed to pick up the silverware they desperately craved but still got to the decider and progressed to the FFA Cup Round of 32 for the second straight season.

In order to get over the final hurdle, manager Kevin Ahern-Evans has plumped for former Olympic FC star Jake McLean, who returns to the Queensland competition after a season down in Victoria with Oakleigh Cannons. The all action midfielder will be joined at Perry Park by goalkeeper Sebastian Usai, striker Rhys Meredith and couple of pick-ups from the Brisbane Premier League. Ahern-Evans has also turned to the clubs youth, by promoting no fewer than 10 players from the clubs academy to complement established stars Trent Clulow, Greg Henslee and Jonti Richter; who returns following knee surgery.

A number of the players who took the Strikers to the Grand Final have departed, with Ukuno, Salin, Chalmers, King, Ahern and Coulson all playing a part in the decider last season which leaves Ahern-Evans with some holes to fill as the season progresses.

As always the Strikers will be amongst the favourites for the title and should be there when the trophies are handed out, it’s just a question of if they will get over the line this time around. Prediction: 1st.

FNQ Heat
2015 Finish: 7th
Manager: Tim Campbell
Notable Ins: Ari Isman (Northern Fury)
Notable Outs: Ethan Docherty (Partik Thistle- Scotland), Alex Smith (Negeri Sembilan- Malaysia).

Another club who changed managers last season, with Martin Docherty perhaps surprisingly moving on from the side from Cairns.

New coach Tim Campbell has made minimal changes to his side with just Fury defender Isman joining his squad, while heading in the other direction are youngster Ethan Docherty and experienced midfielder Alex Smith, both of which have decided to try their luck abroad.

It looks to be something of a transitional season for the Heat, but the side from the Far North shouldn’t be discounted at home when factoring in the travel for the Brisbane sides. Prediction: 6th.

Gold Coast City
2015 Finish: 5th
Manager: Grae Piddick

Notable Ins: Lyndon Dykes (Redlands), Daniel Dragicevic (Sydney United- NPL NSW), Riley Dillon (Bendigo FC- Victoria).
Notable Outs: Josh Wallen (QPR- England), Kristian Rees (Retired).

The newly formed professional arm of Palm Beach, Gold Coast City make their debut in the NPL this season with a squad that is largely the same as the one which just missed the finals last time around.

Arriving however to strengthen the sides attacking options are Lyndon Dykes and Daniel Dragicevic, however it will again be up to the likes of Shane Vitikangas, Ben Litfin, Jarrod Kyle and Justyn McKay to lead City back to the top.

The interesting story from down on the Coast is Troy Ruthven, who agreed to return to the club from Bentleigh early in the pre-season, only to do an about face and remain in the Victorian competition.

The season two champions and two time FFA Cup qualifiers certainly have the talent to make an impact on the competition, and with ambitions to potentially enter the National Youth League as a precursor to the A-League, a lot of people will be watching to see how the newly re-branded side fares. Prediction: 4th.

Moreton Bay Jets
2015 Finish: 1st
Manager:

Notable Ins: Alex Janovsky (Lions FC- Brisbane Premier League), Jacob Fulluck, Ray Schultz, Reyze Kelly (Sunshine Coast Fire), Matt Byrne (Olympic FC), Matt Stein (Brisbane City), Joi Masuda (Kokushikan University- Japan).

Notable Outs: Alex Henderson, Ryota Nakaooka, Matt Zappone (All Released), Luke Borean (SWQ Thunder), Joseph Champness (Young Roar), Charles Mendy (Peninsula Power- Brisbane Premier League).

It’s all change at the Champions with no fewer than eight of the clubs Grand Final winning squad opting to move on. The most painful of those will be defender Alex Henderson and French born attacker Charles Mendy, whose pace and finishing has made him one the best attackers in the league over the past two seasons.

The arrival of Matt Byrne will help solidify the backline, while the Jets used the uncertainty on the Sunshine Coast to pick up three of the Fire’s better performers. Goalkeeper Matt Stein arrives from City to replace the departing Luke Borean, while there will be plenty of intrigue around youngster Joi Masuda who arrives from the Japanese University system.

There’s been plenty of upheaval at the Jets, but it’s still a side that is capable of putting up a solid defence of its title despite the loss of some key players. As always for the Jets, a lot will rely upon the form and fitness of talisman Royce Brownlie, who continues do defy father time as the most potent striker in the competition. Prediction: 3rd.

Northern Fury
2015 Finish: 8th
Manager: Ian Ferguson

Notable Ins: Jae Eurell, Thomas Pearce (Brothers FC- Townsville)
Notable Outs: Ari Isman (FNQ Heat), Sean Karambatzis (Western Pride)

There’s been little news coming out of the Townsville based club which finished 8th and 8 points outside of the top four last season, with just local based duo Jae Eurrell and Tom Pearce joining Ian Fergusons’ squad.
Going the other way are promising youngsters Ari Isman and Sean Karambatzis who’ve moved on to FNQ and Western Pride respectively as they seek to further themselves.

The squad of locals will be lead again by Jacob Crowley, and he will be instrumental in any success the side has this season, although another season of mid-table stability looks likely for the former A-League club. Prediction: 10th.

Olympic FC
2015 Finish: 4th
Manager: Jim Bellos

Notable Ins: TBC.
Notable Outs: Matt Acton (Kaya- Philippines), Matt Byrne (Moreton Bay), Michael Lee (Redlands).

Olympic fell just 90 minutes short of a third successive NPL Grand Final appearance after making the finals yet again last season, falling just short against Moreton Bay and it’ll largely be more of the same this season.

Manager Jim Bellos hasn’t made any signing at the time of print with the club from Brisbane’s South side focusing on bringing players through from their academy.

They have however lost a couple of key players with defender Matt Byrne leaving for Moreton Bay, while goalkeeper Matt Acton has retuned to Asia with Filipino side Kaya.

Despite the lack of high profile arrivals Olympic still have a squad capable of competing with the best this season and the history of making the finals every season of the competition, and the inaugural NPL champions figure to be amongst the finals race again this campaign. Prediction: 7th.

Redlands United
2015 Finish: 3rd
Manager: Matt Chandler

Notable Ins: Paul O’Brien (Capalaba- Brisbane Premier League), Shoheel Kahn (Lions FC- Brisbane Premier League), Stephen Green (Moreton Bay), Michael Lee (Olympic).
Notable Outs: Jayden Prasad (Brisbane Roar Youth), Lyndon Dykes (Gold Coast City).

After going on a strong run in the second half of 2015 which saw them finish one game short of the title decider, Redlands go into this season as one of the more settled clubs in the competition.

The loss of youngsters Prasad and Dykes will hurt, however new arrivals Shoeel Kahn and Michael Lee should cover for those losses upfront, while O’Brien and Green add to their depth.

Add in the likes of French winger Nico Bechar, goalkeeper Brendan White and long serving midfielder Graham Fyfe, and it would be a mistake to rule this side of finals contention. Prediction: 5th.

Sunshine Coast Fire
2015 Finish: 10th
Manager: Sam Saif

Notable Ins: Conor Hancock (Stockport County- England), Glody Ntumba (Genoa- Italy)
Notable Outs: Kenya Takahashi (Lions FC- Brisbane Premier League), Jacob Fulluck, Ray Schultz, Reyze Kelly (Moreton Bay).

Fire’s season was plunged into turmoil just days out from the start with the departure of coach Paul Arnison earlier this week. In his place arrives Sam Saif, the highly regarded coach who won two Premierships and three Championships with Brisbane Wolves in the Brisbane Premier League before joining Mitchelton last season.

While Saif wont have much chance to influence the squad at this late stage, his cause will be boosted by the earlier signings of European based Glody Ntumba and Connor Hancock who arrive from Genoa and Stockport respectively. The losses of Fulluck, Schultz and Kelly, all of who joining defending champions Moreton Bay creates further chances for young players to progress from the Sunshine Coast system.

Fire, who were a powerhouse in the old Queensland State League have struggled to perform in the NPL. The squad this season isn’t the strongest, however with the arrival of Saif, a manager who is notorious for being competitive wherever he goes, things may change in the future. Prediction: 9th.

SWQ Thunder
2015 Finish: 12th
Manager: Chris McLeod

Notable Ins: Luke Borean (Moreton Bay), Majok Piok (Western Pride), Mustafa Jafari (Rochedale Rovers- Brisbane Premier League).
Notable Outs: TBC

It’s been a tough start to life in the NPL for South West Queensland Thunder with the side picking up just the three draws in their first two seasons as a club.

There is however some cause for optimism going into this campaign with the arrival of championship winning goalkeeper Luke Borean as the clubs new #1, while youngsters Mustafa Jafari and Majok Piok should ensure the team is more potent at the other end of the park.

Finals still look to be a long way off for the boys from Toowoomba, but they should be more competitive this season. Prediction: 11th.

Western Pride
2015 Finish: 11th
Manager: Graham Harvey

Notable Ins: Adam Endean (Gold Coast City), Duncan Short, Jacob Minett (Olympic FC), Sean Karambatzis (Northern Fury).
Notable Outs: Ajdin Fetahagic (Young Roar via Velez Mostar- Bosnia), Bon Scott (Newcastle Jets Youth- NPL Northern NSW), Harrison Sawyer (Young Roar).

The Pride had an improved season last time out, with their win tally improving from 5 to 7 on the season, however they remained anchored to second last on the table.

It was an off-season of change as well with Pride manager Karl Dodd joining Brisbane Roar as strength and conditioning coach ahead of the A-League season, with Graham Harvey taking his place.

Three of the clubs talented youngsters followed Dodd out the door, with Harrison Sawyer and Bon Scott joining the youth set-up of Brisbane and Newcastle respectively. Adnan Fetahagic also joined the Roar youth for the upcoming season via Bosnian side Velez Mostar.

Replacing them are Northern Fury standout Sean Karambatzis whose made the move south, Duncan Short, Adam Endean and Jacob Minett should complement a squad of players from the region.

The losses of Sawyer and Scott are tough, but the recruitment suggests that Pride should once again be a hard working side capable of springing a surprise or two over the season. Prediction: 12th.

Scott Owen

Scott Owen is a writer for website "The Roar Review" an unofficial blog site that mainly focuses on Brisbane Roar.

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