Slice of Cheese

NPL Season Wash-Up

Welcome to the Weekend Wash-Up for the final time this season as we take one last look back on the action from the final weekend of the season and reflect upon the 2022 McDonalds NPL Tasmania campaign at large. 

Awards Night Headlines Final Day News

We headed into the final weekend of the year with things largely settled. The only ladder position still up for grabs was the Lions pursuit of South Hobart in second place. That was then extinguished on the Friday night when the Glenorchy Knights struck late to secure a 1-0 victory, with Mies kept off the scoresheet that also ensured Roberto Fernando Garrido was assured of the Golden Boot, an award he capped in style by scoring 4 times in Devonport’s final day 5-1 win over Clarence Zebras. Dan Nash was again superb in Riverside’s net as they limited the damage to just a 1-0 loss against South Hobart whilst Launceston City ended Lino Sciulli’s time in charge with a victory as they claimed a 1-0 win over Olympia.

At the awards night, Kobe Kemp stormed to a massive victory in the Best and Fairest Medal, whilst Nick Morton was recognised by his peers as the Player’s MVP. Curtis Miley took out the Rising Star award, whilst Lino Sciulli was voted by his coaching peers as Coach of the Year. Devonport duo Roberto Fernandez Garrido and Keegan Smith were presented with the Golden Boot and Golden Glove awards for posting the most goals and clean sheets. Eli Luttmer won the Media Award whilst Brenton Kopra took out the top referee. 

Dominant Strikers Complete Record Season

The main story from the 2022 season will undoubtedly be the unrivalled dominance of the Devonport Strikers. Their final day win has seen them posting a 19-1-1 record with a +60 goal difference, which is statistically the most successful season in NPL Tas history. It was not something that seemed all that likely after the opening few weeks. They fell to Knights 1-0 in Round 2, then were probably fortunate to come away with the three points against South Hobart in a 1-0 win a few weeks later. At that point it seemed a tight title race was on and that it was going to be wide open between the top 4. But whilst their rivals behind them slipped up and dropped points amongst themselves, the Strikers simply never let up. They got stronger as the year wore on and their depth had them so well situated to cover injuries. By the midway point of the year, it was becoming apparent this side was not going to be caught, and even the distraction of the Australia Cup showdown against Wellington Phoenix wasn’t going to derail them. They closed things out with a month to go, but realistically they had it sewn up before then. They were the Terminators this year, unflinchingly determined to hunt down the league title they let slip last season. Well, mission complete.

 

South Win Tight Battle For Best of the Rest

The best of the chasing pack turned out to be South Hobart, who held off a late charge from the Kingborough Lions to finish second with the Lions and Knights sitting in third and fourth positions within 5 points at the end of Round 21. The story for South was somewhat of a familiar one to last season, they improved by a win, going from 13 wins and 43 points to 14 wins and 45 points. Though with the context of the Lions proving a more formidable force this year, that’s probably a bigger step forward than the raw points total might suggest. They are still yet to finish any lower than third under Ken Morton and are well poised to maintain that record heading into 2023. 

The Kingborough Lions may have fallen short of their push for second place but this season has to go down as a successful one and another feather in the cap of outgoing coach Jez Kenth. The 41 points they accrued was an NPL best as is the third-place finish they achieved. Depth was probably the thing that most held them back this season, but they’ve built a strong core of players, led by league Best and Fairest Kobe Kemp and a strong foundation has been laid for new year’s coach in Fredd Hess.

The Glenorchy Knights were always going to be up against it in defending their 2021 League Title but they fell short of expectations by dropping down to fourth this year. Replacing such a solid spine of Hart, Harrison (for the first part of the year) Hill and Mearns was never going to be easy but they had seemingly found a way as they started the season well with a win over Devonport and got themselves right in the mix. But they fell out of the running when between Rounds 9 and 17 they played five games against the top four sides and lost all five of them. They just weren’t at the level of 2021 whilst other sides around them improved. With a couple of new additions to the team there is no reason they can’t push again for the title next year.

Italian Duo Occupy Mid Table

Whilst there was 12 points between the sides, I’ll group the two Italian clubs in a mid-table section here as there were also pretty significant gaps from City to the top 4 above them and from Zebras to the two sides below them.

Launceston City ended the season in fifth place with 29 points. It was an improvement on last year by 7 points. City were an interesting side this year that probably exceeded pre-season expectations and would’ve taken this points tally if offered to them pre-season, but then would’ve turned it down if offered midway through the year. They won only 1 of their final 6 games and limped to the finish a little, but that can’t overshadow an undeniable year of progress. Lino Sciulli did a fine job this year and hands the reins over to the incoming Daniel Syson with the club well and truly on the right track.

The Clarence Zebras finished sixth with a 5-2-14 record, which was a point worse than last season when they went 5-3-13 but it’s more or less the same mark. Any season where you move on a coach mid-season is always going to be tough to see big improvements in, but they did look more competitive later in the year as they prioritised defence. A major scalp continues to elude them and has to be the goal for 2023, a draw with City was the only point they took off a side above them on the table this year. Their young players got a lot of exposure this season though and how they continue to develop will determine the club’s fortunes moving forwards. 

Difficult Seasons for Roos and Warriors 

To the bottom end of the table now and unfortunately, it’s another year and another wooden spoon for Riverside Olympic. Having avoided the last placed finish in their first two seasons in the top flight, the past two seasons has seen them sliding back down to the bottom with just six points accrued in each campaign. Four years into their promotion journey, I suspect they were probably hoping to be a little further down the road at this stage, but a positive end to the year provides cause for optimism. At Round 13, having lost 11-2 to the Zebras they were staring down the barrel of a historically bad season, but they salvaged something down the stretch with a pair of draws and win over Olympia, whilst going from averaging 4.5 goals against to 2.5. It wasn’t enough to avoid the spoon, but it may be enough to give them something to build from in 2023. 

Finally, to Olympia, and it’s fair to say the past couple of seasons has seen quite the fall of the Warriors. They have dropped from title contenders to an extremely young side on the rebuild. The post-Mamacas era was always going to prove a tough transition and we saw just how tough this year, as they slid to a club worst 7th placed finish with just 3 wins to show for it. 

The growing pains were always going to be present given the large list turnover and a few youngsters were probably thrown into the fire a little prematurely as a result. Whilst in the short term that led to a few games like the 10-1 thumping at the hands of Devonport, in the long term that will be a good thing. The late-season win over Knights showed they are on the right track and those youngsters are coming along nicely. They will undoubtedly be the key to any prospects of climbing back up the table for Rob Clarke’s to be named successor. 

My Own Awards Ballot

I thought I would end the season and this piece with my own awards ballot. So here are my top 5 players of the season, Young Player of the Year and Coach of the Year. 

MVP: Kobe Kemp

It was a tough year to decide this one with a number of players standing out for their individual efforts. Devonport were so dominant and naturally produced some worthy candidates. In central midfield I thought Henry Andrews was absolutely immense, driving play and scoring goals whilst Roberto Fernandez-Garrido’s return of 27 goals in 18 games has him firmly in the conversation. 

Kemp shone in 2022. Photo: Solstice Digital

Other players who stood out to me this year were Nick Morton, who has strung together consecutive superb campaigns at South Hobart and Jaden Fidra who caught the eye nearly every week for Launceston City with his classy dribbling ability.

But ultimately I think the vote count was correct and that Kobe Kemp was the most dominant player in the league this season. He has always been a classy operator with a fine range of passing but this year he added goal scoring to his repertoire, chiming in with 13 goals. I don’t think anyone else as consistently impacted games as Kemp and as such, he is a worthy MVP. 

Rising Star- Taylor Last, Devonport

An impressive young player with an enormous future, Last played with a maturity beyond his years in 2022 and was a pivotal piece of the Strikers’ engine room. His quality on the ball and decision-making really stood out this year and despite his youth, he never looked overawed or physically overpowered out there. 

A personal approval of his work on the field from one ex-Socceroo Archie Thompson following the Wellington Phoenix game must certainly be one of the highlights of Taylor’s great season in blue and yellow.

Taylor Last’s performances show a bright future. Photo: Solstice Digital

Coach of the Year- Tom Ballantyne

Can’t really go any other way other than the coach of the side who just put together the most statistically dominant season in NPL history in Tom Ballantyne. Had the Lions finished in second and pushed a little closer to Devonport I may have given Kenth the nod but ultimately the Strikers were so far clear I just can’t make a case for anyone else. Did he have the best squad? sure, but that is no guarantee of success and he didn’t just have his side beat the field, they lapped them. Sometimes new coaches bring with them an adjustment period, but Ballantyne had them firing right out of the blocks.

Final Thoughts

So there we have it and that brings an end to my reporting on the local game for 2022. It’s been a pleasure reporting on this league once again this year and thank you all for reading, hopefully, I have offered some value or insight along the journey. Enjoy your Summer breaks and see you in 2023. 

The post NPL Season Wash-Up first appeared on Football Tasmania.
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