After months of hard work on the training pitch, the PlayStation® 4 National Premier Leagues NSW Women’s competition finally kicks off this Sunday.
Heather Garriock’s Sydney University swept all before them last season, taking out the treble in the Preseason Cup, Premiership and Championship.
It’s started much the same way for the ‘Yellow and Blues’, taking the first piece of silverware in 2017, winning the Preseason Cup for the second consecutive year.
Many teams look set to challenge them this year and one team that will be looking for revenge will be the North West Sydney Koalas, who played the ‘bridesmaid’ to the Champions last year.
The Northern Tigers are the new girls on the block and they’ll have something to prove as they attempt to consolidate themselves in the state’s top league.
The Spartans were some way off the finals last year and have seen a coaching change take place with Andrew Mastoris replacing Paul Costatini.
Mastoris returns to the Spartans after coaching youth at the club and spending some time at the Koalas.
The new coach has already set his team some targets ahead of the new campaign and believes that as the season goes on, his team will get stronger.
‘We want to do better than last season and making the Top Four is our goal.
‘We have a fairly new team so it will take us a little bit of time.’
Star striker Tara Pender has left the Blacktown based side along with Sarah Easthope and tenacious midfielder Linda O’Neil who has retired.
But the Spartans weren’t sitting on their hands and have signed some fine players over the offseason.
‘We’ve brought in Trudy Bourke who is unfortunately injured at the moment, Gab Marzano, Eliza Ammendolia, Hannah Brewer and Nicola Bolger.’
Mastoris has his clear competition favourites.
‘Uni are hands down favourites to win, they won it last year and strengthened their team.’
Football NSW Institute
Last season the young Football NSW Institute side finished bottom of the competition ladder but were quite unlucky.
With the experienced Craig Foster at the helm, the girls are improving fantastically and proved that by making the Preseason Cup final and being only minutes from lifting the trophy.
Foster, into his second year with the girls, says the Institute has its set goals.
‘The aim for FNSW always remains the same – to produce outstanding players for Australia’s National Teams.
‘The entire group is maturing quickly, with the first team currently in the second year of a three-year cycle of development. With eight players aged 15 or under and two 14 year olds in our starting eleven, most of whom have already played the majority of games last year, we expect an exceptionally talented group to become accomplished members of the Under 17 and 20 National teams over the next 18 months.’
The team is rich in Australian youth representatives.
‘Already 12 of the 16 first grade squad are youth internationals.’
For Foster and his fantastic team of coaches, it’s all about playing good football and improving.
‘Whilst still extremely young, the team has been together for a year playing against adults and this is reflected in their ability to impose their style against senior players.
‘All of the Football NSW staff including former Matilda Leah Blainey, Hector Alamos and Claudio Alterie have immense confidence and belief in their ability and are very proud of the group. All three deserve credit for their work.’
In a team full of future Matildas, Foster finds it hard to pick one specific player to stand out.
‘Each player has outstanding qualities and all are potential future Matildas.
‘We are most pleased with how they play as a team and their ability to understand and adapt, a quality they will need in abundance in international football, rather than any specific player.’
Another coaching change see’s Illawarra Stingrays favourite Brett Wallin make a return to the coaching helm after taking a year off from the game.
Wallin is excited by the team the Stingrays have brought together for the upcoming season and rates his team’s chances.
‘Our roster looks fantastic, but we haven’t had the side on the park yet.
‘We really struggled in preseason with some horrific injuries and if it wasn’t for the Preaseason Cup, we probably wouldn’t have been able to play a game.
‘We’re yet to have everyone together and it may still be a few weeks away yet.’
Nevertheless, Wallin is excited about the players he has at his disposal.
‘Matilda Michelle Hayman is back along with Caitlin Cooper and Erica Halloway.
‘We’ve also signed New Zealand youth international Emma Rolston who joins the team this week.’
But possibly the biggest signing of the season is that of captain Michelle Carney.
‘Michelle is here, in good shape, still the team captain and playing as good as ever.’
Despite all the injuries, the Stingrays mentor is confident when his side is back, they’ll be in the mix.
‘We want to win it and I think we have the team to do it.
‘We obviously have some early challenges but every team wants to make the finals and once that happens we want to win it and that’s our focus.’
Wallin also has his favourites for the upcoming season.
‘Sydney Uni and the Institute.
‘The Institute is full of the next stars of our game and have a fantastic coach in Craig Foster. It’s great that he’s in the women’s game and I believe they’ll be the team to beat by the end of the year.
‘For Uni, Heather Garriock has done a fantastic job with the club over the last few years and they have a quality team.’
The Emerging Jets finished second bottom last year but had some standout performers in their side that left a mark on the competition.
Coach Ashley Wilson is hoping for more of the same in this campaign and for some new stars to break through.
‘We’re a young team and for us it’s about development.
‘We need to make sure these young girls are improving and make sure we’re producing players through the system.
‘The girls need to be motivated and playing to the best of their ability.’
Having lost some players across the competition, the Jets have done some of their own recruiting with Tara Pender being the biggest name.
‘We picked up Tara Pender who came into our Westfield W-League program and Ash Brodigan.
‘We’ll be looking to them and hoping they can push themselves.
‘Annalee Grove is another to watch and she’s already been with the Under 17s and under 20s touring squads.’
The Jets coach knows the positives the young side has playing in the state’s top tier.
‘With the girls having the exposure to a strong competition it will help them improve.’
Wilson also recognizes the strength of Sydney University who she believes has the best chance of winning the competition.
‘Sydney Uni have recruited well, put together a team that has good experience and youth along with Young Matildas potential.’
The Macarthur Rams enter the 2017 season with familiar face Norm Boardman leading the side.
For Macarthur, it was another finals appearance last year, rounding up the top four, only to get knocked out in their first semi final.
They move into 2017 without inspirational captain Renee Rollason who has called time on her career.
It was a tough Preseason Cup campaign for the Rams and they’ll prove to be the unknown with the season kicking off this weekend.
Nevertheless, Boardman will lead a very well drilled outfit onto the park and they’ll be there or thereabouts when crunch time comes along.
Manly United are another club that oversaw a coaching change only a few weeks ago when Chris Williams returned to his former post, replacing Gwynne Berry as head coach.
Williams led the first team a couple years ago, only to go back to the UK and finish some coaching badges along with gathering some valuable experience around Europe before returning to the Northern Beaches.
United have improved on their performances year after year and their mentor wants the same to continue in 2017.
‘Each year we’ve built on what we’ve done in the previous years.
‘Better performances and better results. It’ll be a tough competition, but as long as we continue to improve the results will come.’
With some fantastic youngsters, in particular goal scoring machine and incredible talent Remy Siemsen, Manly have added well to their roster.
‘We’ve brought in Sunny Franco from the Brisbane Roar, former young Matilda, Natasha Prior from Koalas along with Claire Coehlo. Sophie Nenadovic, Nikola Orgill.
‘Built from what we’ve had over the past years, we want to get the young girls who want to improve and continue to go forward.
‘We’ve kept the core of our team and will continue to bring up our own players.’
Williams, has his favourites but would like to see how the table sits at finals.
‘Uni are favourties, recruited well and playing how they have, they’re the bar and let’s see where we are come September.’
North Shore Mariners
The Mariners were mid-table from start to end last season and will look to improve on last season’s results.
Andrew Taylor took over the helm half way through the season in 2016 at the Mariners but has now had a whole preseason to work with his team and get them where he wants them.
‘Taking over half way was always going to be a challenge.
‘This year we’ve recruited well and pushed some young ones up.
‘We’ve spent the whole preseason together and it’s allowed us to gel and I think we’re heading in the right direction.’
On the Mariners recruits, they’ve found a great mix of experience and youth.
‘Kahlia Hogg heads the list, coming back from the US after five years abroad, Casey Dumont also joins along with Emily Kos and some young players from the Football NSW Institute.’
For the Mariners, it’s all about the club effort and all the teams performing well. Finals are still an obvious goal for the North Shore side.
‘We want to build as a whole program across the club, club championship and improve on last year.
‘In terms of first grade, players want to play finals, not specifically targeting anything right now, we will just see how we go and play our style, hopefully that will get us the results.’
The Mariners mentor has a group that could lead the pack in this seasons competition but also has Uni at the forefront.
‘Based on the quality players Sydney Uni will be up there and Blacktown and Koalas should be up there as well with the established players they’ve recruited.’
North West Sydney Womens Koalas
It was heartbreaking for the NWS Koalas and their coach Stephen Peters last season, playing second fiddle to Sydney University all season. They may have felt hard done by, not picking up any silverware when it was probably deserved.
Peters and his girls are back again though and hungrier than ever.
‘Preseason has been mixed, we’ve had quite a few injuries to key players but the positive is it has given us the opportunity to blood some of our young players from the reserve team.
‘We played some strong teams but we’ve had to be patient and it’s been a good experience.
‘We’re not where we want to be but we’re working towards it.’
There haven’t been many changes to the team that did fantastically well last season, with minimal additions that should lead to further improvements.
‘Stuck to the same side as last year, adding Sarah Easthope from the Blacktown Spartans, Panayiota Petratos from the Football NSW Institute and Daisy Arrowsmith from the Mariners along with a few more.
‘Jess Seaman also returns to the club which is welcoming.’
Peters wants to forget about last year and learn from mistakes that they may have made.
‘We aren’t dwelling on the short falls from last season.
‘The Premiership we probably lost it rather than Uni winning it and we were unlucky in the grand final.
‘We just want to be in top four and playing finals football, mould ourselves and build ourselves to where we were last year.
‘For us, it’s just important play as a team and promote our graduates.’
The Koalas mentor has his arch nemesis as the favourites for the upcoming season but also mentions his ‘team to watch’.
‘It’s a strong competition, Syd Uni the leaders on the back of team strength and the treble from last year. Manly recruited well and are a side to watch and already a fast and passionate team, they also have Remy (Siemsen) who is a freak.’
The Northern Tigers return to the PlayStation® 4 National Premier Leagues NSW Women’s competition after a few years out of the top tier.
Pat O’Sullivan leads the team out in what will be a challenging season for the new kids on the block.
‘The Northern Tigers club is very excited at the prospect of playing top tier women’s football again.
‘We are under no illusions that it will be a challenging year but we are excited at testing ourselves at this level again.’
Heidi Makrillos leads a small list of additions to the Tigers team that earned promotion to the state’s strongest competition.
‘We have the core group of Tiger players who won the right to play in the top tier and we have added some new players who have recent PS4 NPL NSW Women’s experience to give us a squad who we believe can be competitive across the season.’
With this added talent, O’Sullivan expects his side to play an attractive brand of football and mix it with the best teams in the state.
‘We want to continue to play our exciting brand of football that has got us back into the top tier and hopefully by seasons end we will have the respect of the more established clubs in the league.’
They won everything there was to win last year, taking the treble in what was a season to remember for Heather Garriock and Sydney University.
Garriock’s girls have continued the same way in 2017, adding the Preseason Cup to their trophy cabinet after a remarkable comeback in last weekend’s Final.
The Uni mentor is hungry for more of the same from last season but comes into the new campaign with some tweaks.
‘We want to mirror what was done last year.
‘We head into this season playing with a different philosophy, we want to raise the bar both individually and collectively.
‘The goal for this season is for our players to be the best they can.’
Garriock has added some exciting young players along with experienced players to her star-studded squad.
‘We’ve inherited Nicki Flannery, Claire Wheeler, Georgia Boric, Claire Hunt and possibly the biggest name of all, Kendall Fletcher.’
Fletcher joins Uni with a wealth of experience from various American teams and most recently in the Westfield W-League with Canberra United and Western Sydney Wanderers.
For the Uni head coach, development is key and promotion of players within the club’s youth ranks is imperative.
‘We have a lot of good young players in the reserve grade and we want to develop them this year.’
For Garriock, this year’s competition is tough and she has labeled some teams to look out for.
‘The Institute will be strong along with the Koalas and Macarthur.’
Round 1 Preview
Charles Bean Sportsground will see the new girls on the block Northern Tigers entertain the Blacktown Spartans, JJ Kelly Park will play host to the Illawarra Stingrays taking on Sydney University. Lake Macquarie Regional Facility will feature the Emerging Jets clash with the Football NSW Institute, Macarthur Rams face Manly United at Lynwood Park while Northbridge Oval will see the North Shore Mariners take on the North West Sydney Womens Koalas.
The coverage kicks off this Thursday as Football NSW’s Facebook LIVE show, commencing at 6pm, will feature two stars of the female game with Sydney University’s Evelyn Chronis and North West Sydney Womens Koalas’ Nat Tobin in the studio talking about their up and coming year amongst a whole host of other topics – Don’t miss this and be sure to log onto the PS4 NPL NSW Facebook page on Thursday at 6pm to view the special feature.
-By PS4 NPL NSW Women’s reporter Nikola Pozder