Slice of Cheese

Summer Series: Week 1 Wrap

Solstice Photography

The first full week of preseason is in the books, the cobwebs have been blown out and we’ve now had at least one look at the sides as they get their campaigns underway. There was rust, there was confusion, but in betwixt it all there was also some very nice moments of play with some fine goals to delight the punters (Here’s looking at you Eduardo Castaneda!)

It’s tempting in this hot take culture to overreact and start passing judgement on teams already, but in all reality there is no need to get too reactionary to what we have seen so far.  Extrapolating week 1 preseason results into projections for the 2018 season is a bit like a candle in the wind; unreliable.

We can however identify players who might be set to break out and have important roles in their sides this season, sort out who has moved where and get a basic idea of the way sides might be structuring up. Starting with the sides who have featured more than any in South Hobart and Hobart Zebras. They have played 3 games each now and had 3 contrasting results. South are a perfect 3 from 3 whilst Zebras are 0 from 3 with South claiming a 5-1 win in their meeting over the weekend.

For South it was business as usual, continuing their strong preseason form and remaining the side against which everyone will measure themselves. They began with a 4-0 win over the Kingborough Lions that saw them barely click out of third gear but with the likes of Saracino, Castaneda and Grigg all getting on the score sheet, there were plenty of positives to take out of the game. A 2-0 win over Clarence was probably the flattest South have looked this preseason but they still won even with an understrength side. I recently touched on South’s remarkable ability to replace departing talent with youngsters and once again we are seeing it in action. Darcy Hall and Ben Hamlett might have departed but Pajari Sculthorpe (18 years), Eduardo Castaneda (17) and Antonio Saracino (16) have shown over the course of the Summer Series that they are ready to step up. Castaneda provided the highlight of the game against Zebras with an absolute howitzer, top corner from 25 yards out. After a couple of years in the footballing wilderness, the prodigiously talented youngster looks ready to relaunch his promising career.

Eduardo Castaneda is congratulated after his screamer- Solstice Photography

Zebras meanwhile have had a tougher time of it and it’s fair to say the critics are out in force. No surprises there, Markaj was a controversial appointment and when you cop some heavy losses the knives will be out. Some perspective is required however, whilst there can be no denying things aren’t going well for them, the sky is not falling just yet. For the first 30 minutes of the South Hobart game they were on top, both in general play and on the scoreboard. Obviously it all went awry from there but to be fair, their already under strength side had seen key movers like Huigsloot and Akakpo subbed out as they opted to play the kids rather than chase the game. They haven’t been near their full strength all preseason and Markaj has quite clearly been experimenting with some different formations and game styles. Clearly the 5-3 loss against Knights, 4-2 against Olympia and 5-1 against South shows they have major issues to address at the back, but reinforcements are on the way. They potentially have 6 players to come into their best XI including defensive reinforcement from Jayden Hey, Ben Robinson, Sheku Kamara and another import player. There is reason to be concerned about Zebras, there is plenty they need to sort out before March 16th. But what they have put out in the Summer Series is not what we are going to see in the season proper. At this stage you can justifiably rank them behind the other contenders, but forgive me if I avoid grabbing a pitchfork and joining in the angry mob just yet.

If the Zebras can sort out the defence, they have no shortage of firepower- Solstice Photography

It’s been an understated off season for Olympia and they have had just the one Summer Series hit out in the 4-2 win over Zebras. The thing that really jumped out from that game is the added bite that Jack Turner has provided them. The all action midfielder was a stand out in 2017 and he made an early impression against Zebras, scoring a goal and providing tremendous dive. With Turner, Mearns, Hill and Ortmann the midfield looks like being a position of enormous strength this season and they have the athletes in there to physically bully sides with. Joffrey N’koso, who flashed in the latter part of 2017 looked like he has taken a further leap forwards and having Hugh Undy and Warren Wadawu fit again is a good sign. The availability of Undy and Wadawu was sparing last season and it’s no coincidence things started to unravel for them when they didn’t have them out on the park. With Jakub Sklenar departing for Zebras, replacing his goals will be key and those 2 are prime avenues for the Warriors along with new import Zak Eadle. Their next outing will be against Clarence on Saturday at Pembroke Park.

Hugh Undy might just be the happiest man in Tasmanian football- Solstice Photography

Clarence will be looking to build on their defeat to South Hobart and will likely need to structure up in a similar fashion against the Warriors.  Against South they did a very good job of minimizing the space between their lines by employing a very compact structure. It did the job and ultimately they ended up beating themselves by scoring 2 own goals. Given the territorial dominance South enjoyed over the course of the 90 minutes, it can be viewed a reasonable result for the Reds. They showed good fight and after an off season that saw an exodus of players, they were always going to be up against it. They have managed to retain captain Jeremy Price which is good news for the club a the versatile Price was probably their player of the year in 2017. The likes of Jake Stuart and Adam Hedge showed they will be crucial for them if they play in this manner. It’s a tough job leading the line in that type of system, but Stuart’s athleticism and endeavor is first rate, whilst Hedge’s aerial prowess gives them an outlet if they wish to deploy him in attack.

Retaining Jeremy Price is big for Clarence- Solstice Photography

Kingborough attempted a similar approach but were less successful, albeit against a slightly stronger South Hobart XI. That game ended in a 4-0 defeat and it will mostly be remembered for Danny Cowen ending up in goals for the second half. Mitchell Stalker has come across from Olympia and will presumably be their number 1 goalkeeper moving forwards, but his injury in this game meant the Lions inspirational Captain was forced to tend net. Cowen’s presence up front was missed, he does such a good job holding the ball up for his side and given the youth in their ranks, is going to be the man to shoulder most of the attacking load this year. The Lions hit the reset switch midway through last year and 2018 is essentially the next 12 months of an 18 month rebuild. It won’t be the games against South that the Lions are judged on this season and whilst it offered them a glimpse of where they want to get to, there wasn’t a lot to take away from game 1 for the Lions. Their clash with Knights on Saturday evening will offer more of an insight into them, but unless they are keeping their powder dry, it appears the Lions are rolling with youth for 2018.

The Lions battled away but were outclassed by South- Solstice Photography

Knights themselves will be happy with their start after claiming a 5-3 win over Zebras but they have made their biggest splash off the field. Determined to earn promotion to the NPL for the 2019 season, Knights appear set to leave no stone unturned in their bid to return to the top flight. They have signed Nick Naden and George Hallard from Clarence, Luke Warrener from Zebras, James Wilson from South Hobart and brought back the likes of Jono Ladic and Siya Kurdistan. Given the already strong squad they had in 2017, they should prove a formidable opponent this season and must be considered favourites for promotion. The 5-3 win over Zebras was following very little preparation and I look forward to seeing how they do against the likes of Olympia and South Hobart in the coming weeks as they reach a more advanced stage of preparation. That result showed they clearly aren’t lacking for firepower and they should be an entertaining watch.

The Knights pulled off a major coup in signing Jono Ladic

Moving North and the Devonport Strikers have started the Northern Summer Series with a pair of thumping victories. Against Championship opposition the Strikers have made light work of their opponents winning 6-0 against Ulverstone before Daniel Jackson scored all five in a 5-1 win over Launceston United. The Jackson five was easy as ABC for the American, receiving silver service, in particular from their rampaging right back Eddie Bidwell who assisted on 3 of the goals. Bidwell was a revelation in 2017 and if early indicators are anything he might be even more of a handful this year. The week earlier it was Michael Holden, showing the esteem in which coach Chris Gallo holds him by donning the captains armband who fired home a hat-trick. You’d expect the Strikers to deal with the Championship sides and bigger tests lay ahead, but the Strikers are humming along at the minute.

No Gorrie? No worries when you have Eddie Bidwell- Solstice Photography

There were similarly lop sided results in the other 2 games in the Northern Summer Series. Northern Rangers claimed the biggest of those wins as they walloped Ulverstone 9-0! It was the usual suspects doing the damage with Nick Lanau-Atkinson scoring four times, whilst Harry “The Town House” Thannhauser rifled in a hat-trick of his own. New recruit, Argentinian striker Federico Colaianni was absent from the squad but he is earning rave reviews and from all reports is looking like a player destined to make a major impact on the league this year. If he can mirror the impact that Shane Brassington had on the club, then the Rangers hierarchy would be delighted.  The week before they played out a 1-1 draw with Launceston City in what would have been one of the more relevant games in gauging where both sides were at, but both teams were under strength as they opted to ease into things.

Nick Lanau-Atkinson is firing early in 2018- Solstice Photography

For City’s part, they played a stronger side in week 2 as they beat Riverside 6-0. There is more than a hint of Devonport about this new look City squad for 2018. Niko Giantsopoulos, Tyler Fischer, Daniel Syson, Lindsay Millington and Harrison Wicks all lined up on the weekend and Peter Savill has been involved in training sessions. Another notable name on the teamsheet was Liam Scott, who appears set to operate as a fly in player much like Mathew Sanders does at Hobart Zebras. Before departing for Victoria, Scott was one of the best defenders in the state and he should offer a big boost to City. Yet for all the new names it was a pair of City’s young brigade they have developed themselves that made the biggest impact. Jarrod Linger has goals in back to back games whilst last years Rising Star Noah Mies fired in a hat-trick. His second half of 2017 showed tremendous promise and if you throw in what appears a much stronger supporting cast around him this season, it could be a big year for the Son of a Gun from Buckby Park.

Niko Giantsopoulos is one of a host of big acquisitions by City- Solstice Photography

Upcoming Fixtures

Southern Summer Series

Saturday 24 February

Clarence United FC v Olympia FC Warriors, 4:00pm, Pembroke Park

Glenorchy Knights v Kingborough Lions, 5:00pm, KGV Football Park

Northern Summer Series

Saturday 24 February

Launceston United v Northern Rangers, 12:00pm, Birch Avenue

Ulverstone FC v Launceston City, 2:00pm, Birch Avenue

Devonport Strikers v Riverside Olympic, 4:00pm, Birch Avenue

 

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