I sound like a broken record with the same comment every year at this time – This will be the best National Premier Leagues NSW Women’s competition ever!
But seriously, what a season we have ahead of us. You couldn’t pick a top five and you most definitely can’t pick a Premier or Champion!
Strap yourselves in for what will be one incredible roller coaster ride in the NSW Women’s NPL competition in 2021.
They arrived on the scene in 2020 with high hopes and wanting to send a serious message across the competition.
Things started brightly but slowly the results went the other way, as did APIA’s position on the ladder and they missed out on finals football.
The hierarchy at Lambert Park acted swiftly and replaced Matthew Costantini with Former Matildas assistant and Thai Women’s National Team coach Spencer Prior.
Prior is very excited to get life underway at a club with a rich history.
““It’s a very good club, lots of history and with the girls game growing and where the club was coming from a girls perspective five years ago it has grown really quickly,” said Prior.
“The club has really good stability, I really like the fact how they are looking to promote from within, in particular with young players and their development.”
APIA will be without influential, hard hitting midfielder Jen Bisset who has moved back to Canberra and powerful centre back Alex Huynh.
Liz Ralston, Rhianna Pollicina, Deborah-Anne De La Harpe, Princess ibini, Georgia Yeoman-Dale and Teigen Allen are all back at Lambert Park but it’s the arrivals that will give Prior some headache and it almost looks like Adriano Galliani was involved with the transfers.
Names such as Susan Phonsongkham, Gema Simon, Nicki Flannery, Grace Maher and possibly the biggest name of the lot, Tori Tumeth, will all don the famous maroon APIA jersey with another sneaky addition due to arrive in May.
“It’s a decent squad, based on budget, if we finish in the top four we’ve over achieved.”
“We’re blessed having players in the W-League who have had a year to develop at the top level and now it’s our job to continue that individual development.”
Departures: Jen Bisset
Arrivals: Susan Phonsongkham, Gema Simon, Nicki Flannery, Grace Maher, Tori Tumeth
It was a difficult 2020 COVID season in Sefton as Bankstown City struggled to put things together amongst coaching changes and so on.
This year, the experienced Matt Costantini takes the helm with the former APIA Leichhardt Tigers with a massive task at hand.
Since the departure of Vesna Milivojevic, Bankstown has lacked the creativity and leadership in their squad.
Olivia Price and Liana Danaskos have been brought in to Jensen Park to fill the void with the latter coming back to play football after a serious back injury had her out for a lengthy period.
Costantini is happy with the squad he has gathered and expects to be competitive in 2021.
“I feel as if we have assembled a good squad that should be competitive throughout the 2021 season. We kept the core group from last season which was a great foundation to build off,” said Costantini.
“We then went out and found players who want to play to a structure and who are good people and good for the culture of the team and club.”
“We just want to compete and play our style and brand of football and hopefully get some results along the way.”
With not many W-League players on their roster, Costantini has been fortunate to have a large member of his squad available to him.
“It’s been great to have a majority of the squad together for the entire pre season, its allowed us to really focus on tactics and bringing new players and old players together.”
Arrivals: Olivia Price, Liana Danaskos, Logan Garard, Cassidy Chidgey, Jenifer Bennett, Beth McGhee, Naomi Nguyen, Carla Trimboli, Alyssa Jansen and Jess Fallah
The Blacktown Spartans will be looking to be back in finals football in 2021 after narrowly missing out in the shortened 2020 season.
Brad Attard is back at the helm at Blacktown Football Park with a full pre-season under his belt and ready to attack the competition.
The coach and team are pleased with the preparation they’ve had with some testing friendly gmes during that period.
“Pre-Season has been fantastic, we have a great group of girls and a real squad feel at the moment,” said Attard.
“We were lucky to be given an opportunity to play the Western Sydney Wanderers twice in the pre-season and we took some great positives out of that.”
The Spartans mentor is pleased with the squad he has assembled and can’t wait for the football to finally begin.
“I personally feel very lucky and excited to work with the talent we have this season. We’ve got some fantastic young footballers in our squad, and recruited some more experienced NPL campaigners to give a nice balance.”
The arrival of W-League stars Courtney Nevin and Leticia McKenna will definitely add to the Spartans squad and go a long way to replacing the ‘irreplaceable’ Alix Roberts who has decided to hang the boots.
No Spartans right flank will ever feel the same again without Roberts steaming down the line.
Attard’s expectations are to see his team still playing football come September.
“Playing finals football is the goal for 2021.”
Departures: Lexie Moreno, Alix Roberts, Candace Sciberras
Arrivals: Courtney Nevin, Leticia McKenna
Football NSW Institute
You don’t know what you’ll get from the Institute in terms of their league position.
What you will definitely get is a fine brand of football and a team that will improve as the season progresses.
Jaime Gomez leads this young and very talented group and almost seems the perfect fit for developing these future stars.
They’ve challenged before, they’ve won titles with that very special generation that included Princess Ibini and just missed out on finals football in 2020.
2021 will be an unknown at HQ but don’t be surprised if they find themselves in the higher part of the competition ladder.
Since joining the competition from the Northern NSW NPL, the Emerging Jets have found the going tough.
In saying that, year by year, improvements have been evident and a lot of young talent has come out of the north.
They avoided last place in 2020 and put in some fantastic performances along the way despite only registering the one victory.
It will be a tough campaign for the Jets but improvement and development is the key for them.
South Coast powerhouse Illawarra Stingrays missed out on a Top 5 finish for the first time since 2014 in last season’s COVID-19 interrupted campaign.
The Stingrays will once more be led by Bruce Tilt as he looks to return the girls in pink to finals football.
It won’t be easy for the Illawarra squad this campaign having lost influential players Blaize Kendis (relocated to Queensland), Sarah Johnstone (relocated to Canberra) and Kaelah Austin (Injury).
Still, Tilt is confident the youngsters at the club can step up.
“I’m confident that the girls will give 100% in every game. We have elevated some great girls from the youth teams and they know exactly the passion and drive required to be successful.
“Goalkeeper Sophie Emery is showing maturity between the sticks and Casey Johnson is pushing for first team inclusion. Erica Halloway is back in top form after a strong return to W League action.”
Therefore expectations for the 2021 season remain the same for the Stingrays.
“We go into the 2021 season on a positive note that our recruitment of young players to blend with the more experienced girls will provide the desired results.”
“Players like Margaux Chauvet have had a good debut season at West Sydney Wanderers in the W-League and she comes back to Stingrays with renewed knowledge and determination to continue her development.”
Tilt says they have looked to prepare the players in a bid to avoid injury by giving them home programmes along with their usual training and pre-season games.
“We also mixed the opposition during trial matches to expose our players to different styles of football and so far it has been received well.”
Departures: Blaize Kendis, Sarah Johnstone, Sally James, Nikita Woods (Injury), Paris Ford (Injury), Kaelah Austin (Injury)
Arrivals: Ursula Bratjansak, Lulu Lozano, Talitha Kramer, Jessica James
One of the most famous clubs in the women’s game not only in New South Wales but the whole country.
They haven’t been able to qualify for the finals since their 2018 Grand Final victory and had quite a disappointing campaign by Rams standards in 2020 shortened competition format.
There will be a new man at the wheel as renowned NPL NSW Women’s coach Stephen Peters jumps back in the coaching hot seat and has a humble expectation of what he expects in 2021.
“We just want to improve on last season’s 10th placed finish,” Peters said.
The squad hasn’t had to deal with too many departures with Tash prior the biggest name to depart.
Club stalwarts Renee Rollason, Kylie ledbrook, Leena Khamis and Sham Khamis all suit up again for the Rams.
“It’s exciting and a fantastic to work with such experienced campaigners,” the young coach said.
The Rams have added to their roster with W-League stars from Canberra United Lauren Keir and Hayley Taylor-Young joining the team as well as Mel Caceres arriving from Sydney Uni.
Departures: Natasha Prior
Arrivals: Lauren Keir, Mel Caceres, Bethany Gordon, Hayley Taylor-Young, Holly Williams and Olivia Sloan.
The Champions, Manly United, enter 2021 without their long time mentor Chris Williams who decided to step away following last season’s successful campaign.
Williams will be dearly missed at Cromer Park and will be forever remembered for all the hard work he put in at the club.
His replacement, Tom Hopley, a club man who comes in as the reserves coach in a very tight knit Championship winning senior coaching team.
New coach, new era, same mentality.
“We are quietly confident but realise how strong this competition has become,” said Hopley.
“Our expectations as always are to continue playing our brand of football first and foremost, but also to provide opportunities for our best young local talent in our program, as well as acting as a springboard into W-league and beyond for our current W-league players.”
After growing accustomed to having two Cholakian’s at Cromer, this season there won’t be any as both Brendan and Claudia sought futures away from the Northern Beaches club.
Manly has recruited though, bringing in Tash Prior and Caitlin Jarvie while Sophie Nenadovic returns from injury, giving Hopley a reason for excitement.
“I couldn’t be happier with the squad we have to be honest.”
“We wanted to bring a few new players in to keep everyone on their toes, and of course strengthen, which I feel we have been able to do. But most notably we’ve still kept our identity with a core of Manly United Juniors which we’re really happy about.”
Much like most of the teams in the division, younger players have been the stars of the preseason and have been given a go to train with the first team.
“Preseason has been really enjoyable, but with the later start I think everyone is ready to get going now!”
“We have had a very young, highly motivated crop of players in at training this preseason, and I feel they’ve prepared themselves as best as possible.”
Departures: Hannah Peric, Claudia Cholakian
Arrivals: Caitlin Jarvie, Tash Prior, Sophie Nenadovic (injury return), Emily Jensen
What a turn around this club has seen over the last few years.
Despite missing some key personnel last season, the Northern Tigers under the watchful eye of Jason Eagar managed to secure another finals birth but couldn’t repeat the heroics of the previous season.
And what a memorable campaign 2019 was for the grand finalists.
With so many players from the NSW NPL competition taking part in the W-League, Eagar believes this will be the strongest competition yet.
“It will be a challenging season with the NPL competition being further enhanced due to the W-League experience players would have had in 2020/21,” Eagar said.
In saying that, the North Turramurra outfit will look to make it three years on the bounce in finals football.
“I have total belief in the playing group, I have known a lot of the players for a long time now,” the Tigers mentor said.
“I know the effort will always be there, l know the players have that winning mentality and they play for each other. We will be very competitive and I expect us to still be playing in September!”
A major loss for the Tigers will be inspirational central defender Ellie Brush.
Brush’s unfortunate ACL injury playing for Sydney FC in the W-League has put her out for the season.
But, Eagar has recruited well with some familiar faces returning to North Turramurra.
“I’m looking forward to working with Malia Steinmetz again as she missed the COVID season.
“Izzy Gomez and Aideen Keene are Tigers juniors, they are returning after spending a number of seasons at Football NSW Institute as well as Ariella Cabezas, another Tigers junior, returning after most recently playing for Koalas.”
Departures: Ellie Brush (Injury)
Arrivals: Malia Steinmetz, Isabella Gomez, Aideen Keene, Ariella Cabezas
North West Sydney Koalas
Adam Keramea took over at the North West Sydney Koalas last season and steered the team to a respectable seventh place.
With a number of injuries throughout the season as well as the departure of best player Amy Sayer, Keramea did well to keep the Koalas more than competitive as they just missed out on a finals place by one point.
Now, the Koalas coach has had a full preseason under his belt and the girls from Christie park are ready to roll in 2021.
“Very positive,” said Keramea.
“After a disrupted 2020 season, the break was a godsend, and timely for all players to rest and freshen up in preparation for our preseason. The absence of W league players can be challenging, however we have an excellent senior playing group with us and a good time to work with the youth coming through.”
From last season’s squad, Sophie Harding, Nat Tobin and Erin Pridmore will all be suiting up again while the departure of influential Japanese import Keiko Tanaka could be a major blow for the Koalas.
They’ve been busy in the off season though, bringing in a large number of players with the most notable multiple Championship winner Rachael Soutar and experienced goalkeeper Claire Coelho.
Keramea is well aware the challenges his team face this season and how strong the competition will be across the board.
“I think we will see a very tough NPL1 competition.
“With the travel restrictions in 2020 that we have seen restricting the W league international players, the opportunity was there for local players to showcase what they can bring to the competition.
“Now we are seeing more of the W league player pool entering the NPL1 space, this will make for a very interesting 2021 season.
“I’m very excited about the season ahead.”
Departures: Kiara Farqhuar, Ariella Cabezas, Keiko Tanaka
Arrivals: Isabella Volkanovski, Jayme Millard, Scarlet Thomas, Rachael Souter, Clare Coelho, Ivana Galic, Kim Davies
Long ago were the days that Sydney Olympic were the new kids on the block, they’ve now become a true leader in women’s football in New South Wales.
Still though, George Beltsos and the crew at Belmore play it down, as the Olympic boss did this time.
“Our expectations are to put our best effort to try and win every week, I don’t expect anything more than that as a coach,” Beltsos said.
A side effected by the W-League with various key players representing teams in the national division, Beltsos saw it as a positive for his team.
“Our preseason has been great and it has given lots of young players the opportunity to play up in first grade.
“It’s given them some experience and an understanding of what is expected from them and they are learning about the style of football that is required to be played.”
The brains behind Olympics last two finals runs is also pleased with the squad he has assembled with the likes of Teigan Collister, Claudia Cholakian and Nikola Orgill adding to an already phenomenal squad.
“I am very happy with the squad we have and there is nobody else that I would want in our squad, we have a top culture in our club and we only bring in the right players that are a perfect fit.”
The Belmore outfit did lose two superstars in Courtney Nevin and Susan Phonsongkham, as well as the ever present Emily Kos.
Despite that, Olympic will definitely be one of the sides making a serious push for Premiership and Championship glory and this could be the season they lift one or both trophies.
Departures: Emily Kos, Sienna Fraser, Courtney Nevin and Susan Phonsongkham
Arrivals: Teigan Collister, Claudia Cholakian, Nikola Orgill, Lexie Moreno, Hannah Bourke
What will be of the best NPL NSW Women’s team of the last five years?
They’ve dominated, won trophies, played incredible football but things have changed this season at Sydney University.
The success they enjoyed probably made them one of the greatest teams to have graced the competition but they will be less their inspirational mentor Alex Epakis who has moved on to the Perth Glory in the W-League.
The new era will commence under Emily Husband and Amy Shepherd, two popular Sydney University youth coaches.
Sydney University’s Director of Football John Curran is confident the club will keep it’s place in the women’s game as a leader despite the major changes within the squad and staff.
“Due to the loss of many experienced first team players we decided to rebuild from within by promoting some players from our every successful Championship winning reserve grade squad and by introducing some young talent from outside the club,” said Curran.
“We are not in the business of trying to buy a first-grade competition and would rather build a whole Club model which takes time to develop the players, culturally and integrate them into our system.”
“We are keeping our season expectations high and are confident we have the base to be competitive in an ever improving environment.”
Losing a plethora of stars and almost their whole first grade starting team from 2020, Curran believes Uni have recruited well to replace the outgoing players.
“We are excited to say that Rachel Lowe (Sydney FC), Hannah Jones (Newcastle Jets), and Laura Hughes (Canberra United) will bolster our midfield ranks and Emma Illioski (Canberra United) will strengthen our Senior Squad for the 2021 WNPL Season.”
Curran believes the club has had a good preseason with some tough fixtures along the way in preparation for the incoming campaign.
“The girls are looking well prepared and are excited to be re-joined by their W-League teammates in the coming weeks, when everyone will be ready to start the new WNPL season on a high.”
Departures: Kendall Fletcher, Julie-Ann Russell, Tori Tumeth, Grace Maher, Nicki Flannery, Michelle Heyman, Teigan Collister, Rachael Soutar
Arrivals: Rachel Lowe, Hannah Jones, Laura Hughes, Emma Illioski
By: NIKOLA POZDER, CHIEF NPL NSW WOMEN’S WRITER