Slice of Cheese

NPL Season Preview Part 1: What Did We Learn?

Solstice Photography

The practice games are now concluded and we are a week out from the real thing. Whilst you can’t read too much into the results from these games, there was still plenty to be gleaned from the preseason hit outs. So just what did we learn? And what can we expect moving forwards? Let’s take a look in part I of the season preview.

South Hobart: The Importance of Loic Feral

After their early start that saw them taking on mainland NPL sides back in January, it felt like South were cruising through the Summer Series in second gear, before their 6-1 thumping at the hands of Knights offered them a major wake up call. They responded in typical South style and put in one of their best preseason displays in the 3-0 win over Olympia on Saturday night, showing they remain as strong as ever. There wasn’t a whole lot we didn’t already know about this South side, but perhaps the most important question facing them was who is going to take Jack Turner’s position in the side? Well, it would seem that Loic Feral is going to be that man and will sit the deepest of the three midfielders, allowing Kobe Kemp to play a more advanced role. The experienced Frenchmen is an entirely different player to Turner, but a very effective one and is going to be a key mover for his side this year, shielding the back four.

Loic Feral will be a key for South in 2018- Solstice Photography

Olympia Warriors: Land of the Giants

The Warriors have had a very understated preseason campaign off the pitch by their standards but on the pitch they looked razor sharp. The goals flowed early on and the performances were impressive  before their undefeated preparation came to a halt against South Hobart on Saturday night. The thing that really stood out was the sheer size of this team. You’ve got to think they might have the squad to really utilise their home ground advantage this year after a couple of years of it actively working against them. With their best XI likely featuring Lucas Hill, Alex Holmes, Jack Turner, Paul Stevens and Jake Vandermey, they are going to be an absolute nightmare to handle from set pieces and they are just going to physically bully sides. With the long throw such an effective weapon on the narrow Warrior Park, expect the Warriors to dominate in the air and score a lot of goals from set pieces.

Lucas “The Mountain” Hill will be surrounded by a Warriors mountain range- Solstice Photography

Hobart Zebras: Don’t Read Too Much Into Their Early Form

It was a fairly anaemic preseason from the Zebras and the knives were out early after they added to heavy losses against the Victorian NPL sides with 3 straight Summer Series defeats. The slew of defensive mistakes that riddled their early games was not overly surprising though given the experimental nature of the line ups being deployed along with the heavy promotion of youth. With a near full strength XI against Kingborough on Saturday we got a glimpse of what they could be if things click. Their new imports, Charuza and Van Doorne looked class whilst Luke Huigsloot far more comfortable in his more typical attacking role. Things are coming together nicely for Zebras and whilst there are concerns that the first XI have not played together enough, the version we saw of Zebras in January/early February is not the one to expect come Friday night.

Zebras have plenty of firepower but must cut out the defensive mistakes that plagued their early showings- Solstice Photography

Clarence United: They will be tough to break down

It ended up being a winless preseason for Clarence but it’s not all doom and gloom for the Reds as their performances against the likes of South Hobart and Hobart Zebras showed that they can make themselves a tough opponent to play. They looked structured and organised in those games and whilst goal scoring looms as a problem, they have shown the blueprint that could lead them to some results this year. They managed to snare back Odaine Demar after his dalliance with South Hobart, as well club captain, Jeremy Price, which solidifies the defensive unit and should provide the base for them to grind out some results this year.

Clarence will be delighted to have kept a hold of Jez Price- Solstice Photography

Kingborough Lions: The Rebuild Is Continuing Steadily

After a tumultuous 2017 in which the Lions flipped the rebuild switch midway through the year, the Summer Series has shown they remain on that trajectory. Broadbent appears set to back in the youth once again which he said was his priority upon taking the job. With relegation kicking in next season, it seems the Lions are going to use this season to once again develop the kids and set themselves up for next year. Plenty of youngsters got big minutes in the Summer Series which produced mixed results. They put in 3 good performances and two terrible ones, but if you are good more often than they are bad in 2018, then I reckon the Lions will take that. They have been given a major boost with the return of the best set piece maestro in the state, Chris Downes, and have two yet to be unveiled imports ready to go to add some class to the youth and should make them a better side after claiming the wooden spoon last year.

The rebuild under Broadbent is set to continue- Solstice Photography

Devonport Strikers: The Strikers Look Genuine Title Contenders

Whilst beating up on Northern Championship opposition was never going to overly test the Strikers, the qualities of their players has been on full display to set tongues wagging on the coast. The scout on Lithuanian import Gediminas Krusa is that he might be one of the most talented imports in the history of the competition and from their Summer Series play Jackson and Lazcano look top quality as well. With the impressive collection of youngsters that formed the bulk of their 2017 side now augmented by the returning Joel Stone, Beau Blizzard, Kieran Mulraney, Nathan Pitchford and the trio of imports, this is a side that under the stewardship of Chris Gallo is ready to contend. When Brayden Mann returns from the cricket pitch they will be even stronger and whilst they will play a very different style to 2016, this is a squad that could potentially achieve a similar success.

Joel Stone is one of a number of big inclusions for the Strikers- Solstice Photography

Launceston City: Hey Big Spenders!

No NPL club has made a bigger splash than Launceston City this off season. They can try and play down expectations all they like, but the reality is when you splash the cash they have and bring in the big names as they have, people are going to expect results! The players they had lining up in the Summer Series were truly eye popping. Niko Giantsopoulos, Tyler Fischer and Shane Cartwright headline the big name inclusions but it was one of their youngsters who has really stolen the show this preseason with Noah Mies running riot. The 2017 Rising Star winner broke out in the back half of the campaign and he has been banging goals in for fun all preseason. Another four against Rangers on Saturday underlines just how much he is flourishing with a stronger supporting cast around him and he looks set for a big year with City set to be the league’s big improvers.

Noah Mies has been on fire- Solstice Photography

Northern Rangers: Closing The Gap Will Be Tough

The 2017 season went down as a big success for Northern Rangers under the stewardship of Lino Sciulli. He turned the clubs fortunes around after a tough 2016 and got them back on the right path, bringing through a number of quality youngsters and getting a massive tick for the job he did. Building on that and improving their points tally to try close the gap to the top four looms as an even tougher task though. With most of the league engaging in somewhat of an arms race, spending significantly to improve their sides, Rangers must continue to improve because standing still will quickly see you moving backwards. Especially with their neighbours City, who they finished ahead of last season investing so significantly. Whilst they may not have the quantity of new recruits, they have added some major firepower in Federico Colaianni whose preseason form shows him as a player to look out for and with Ryan Mcgee running out in a friendly against City on the weekend, it looks like they have someone who could offset the loss of Zach Cross. Ultimately it will be the young brigade who must continue to take strides though if they are going to close the gap to the top four this year.

Youngsters like Fulton must continue to improve if Rangers are to close the gap- Solstice Photography

NPL Tasmania Season Preview Coverage

Part I: What Did We Learn?

Part II: The Burning Questions

Part III: Players to Watch

Part IV: Predictions

FFT Media and Communications Coordinator, Everton tragic, long form journalism devotee, Andrea Pirlo enthusiast and admirer of the parked bus.