Slice of Cheese

NPL TAS SEASON PREVIEW PART II: The Burning Questions

Devonport Strikers

How do they replace Holden and Mann’s goal output?

With Brayden Mann and Michael Holden departing the club for interstate moves, there is now a hole in the Strikers attack that is going to take some serious filling. Mann scored 33 goals and Holden chimed in with 8 goals and 18 assists, an output that is not so easily replaced. New recruits Ignacia Giampaoli and Max Fitzgerald loom as particularly important, and more attacking responsibility will now fall onto the shoulders of Joel Stone. Stone went on a tear in the back half of 2018 and the Strikers will be counting on him to pick up where he left off and do it for the whole year. You’re not likely to find an individual to match the goal and assist tallies the Mann/Holden duo racked up last season, but if they can get multiple players chiming in, it will go a long way towards filling that void.

South Hobart

Is preseason form a cause for concern?

A 2-1 loss to Glenorchy Knights, a 4-2 loss to Olympia and a pair of losses to Pascoe Vale are hardly causes for panic, but they just seem so, well un-South Hobart like! This is a side who are renowned for the preseason edge they generate on their rivals, starting training earlier and getting in plenty of match practice that has traditionally left them the best prepared club in the competition. On the evidence of this year, their title rivals are starting to close that gap. Whilst South’s play hasn’t set the world on fire thus far, a look at their playing group would suggest we shouldn’t expect that to extend into the regular season. Losing De Vecchi (transfer), Dan Brown(retirement) and Connor Schmidt (Injury) are blows to the second placed side from last year. But the additions of DeSouza, Foley, Hall, Herweynen, Phillipson and Leszczynsi means that South’s squad looks deeper than ever and in a longer season that could well be pivotal. So are the recent results down to a collection of new players needing to gel, or is it a red flag?

Hobart Zebras

Is Smith the man to finally deliver the Zebras the title?

Having long been linked with the club, David Smith has returned to Tasmania to coach the side in 2019 and the expectations are high. This is a squad who are perennial contenders, but for one reason or another have not been able to convert that into meaningful silverware. Smith has been handed the keys to the club to shape it in his image and could be the man to lead the club to the promised land. He has made some shrewd acquisitions to augment the squad, adding in Sam Whatman, Nicky Edwards and Ryu Yonezawa but his work in retaining the likes of Sanders, Charuza and Dillon is just as important. Once again the Zebras have got the playing personnel to win the league, but can Smith be the man to pull it altogether at last?

Sanders has scored 46 goals in 42 games over the past 2 NPL seasons- Solstice Photography

Launceston City

How do they recover from Sawdons shock departure?

A coach departing a week out from the start of the season is not the most auspicious of starts to the year for City. Peter Sawdon’s shock departure on the eve of their campaign will leave the club scrambling to get adequately prepared. It will fall to one of the club’s favourite sons, Lino Sciulli to right the ship and he has minimal time to do so. The postponement of the Triple Header may well prove a major positive for them, providing an extra week and a half for Sciulli to prepare. With the bye in Round 2, City now have till the 13th of March, when they take on Devonport in midweek action. There has been a large turnover since he last led the side, and most of the players who were at the club were youth players back then. A coach change so close to the competition is a tough thing to overcome, lets hope for their sake it work out a little better than it did for the Spanish at the 2018 World Cup!

Olympia Warriors

Can Nick Mearns stay fit?

The last time Nick Mearns had a clean run at it, Olympia won the title. Unfortunately for the Warriors that was all the way back in 2015, and after injury interrupted seasons in 2016, (when he would have won the Mitsubishi Medal had he stayed fit) and 2017, he then missed the entirety of 2018. At his best Mearns is one of the most dominant midfielders in the competition, a great two way player who is more than capable of chipping in with goals. This Warriors squad is loaded with a talent, but a fit Mearns just balances things out for the Warriors. His presence in midfield will allow Lucas Hill to remain at Centre Back where he is more impactful and so a fit Mearns could just be the piece that puts this talented squad over the top in their title bid.

Kingborough Lions

Can the Lions claw their way up the table?

For the first four seasons of the Statewide Competition, it seemed the Lions were locked into 6th place, finishing in that spot in four consecutive seasons. They would have taken that over the past 2 years though, falling back to 7th and 8th respectively, well below where the club had set its expectations. For such a well run club that is so strong off the field, with a large junior catchment area, the inability to translate that into top flight success has been a conundrum. Long considered the sleeping giants of Tasmanian Football, this looms as a bit of a reset year for them, but if they can start to improve their finishing position, then the infrastructure is in place for them to grow into a real power club. But with sides strengthening around them, will they be able to improve enough?

Danny Cowen will again be a key man for the Lions- Solstice Photography

Clarence United

Can they turn things around after their preseason form?

After a winless 2018 campaign, the Reds are starting from a low base as they look to rebuild in 2019, but preseason results paint a worrying picture for them. Preseason results are usually something to be taken with several grains of salt, but there comes a certain point where it does become alarming and losses of  9-0 to Olympia, 8-0 to South Hobart and 9-0 to Hobart Zebras represent just that. Certainly they have a number of senior heads to come back into the team, such as Cannamela, Hedge, Price and Palmer so reinforcements are coming for the season proper, but when you haven’t fielded anything resembling your best XI as of yet, that’s hardly an ideal preparation. Like City, the delay of the Triple Header may well prove a blessing, giving some of the late arrivals to the squad extra time to prepare.

Riverside Olympic

Have they strengthened enough following their promotion? 

Riverside learnt all about the gulf between the top sides in the NPL and the Northern Championship in the Lakoseljac Cup last season, when they were summarily dismissed 11-1 by the Hobart Zebras. A 3-1 loss in a preseason friendly suggests that chasm has certainly closed since, but preseason is one thing, the NPL is another entirely. Without the import players that most of their league rivals have, will the squad that claimed the Northern Championship last year have enough about them?   They have bolstered the squad depth with players possessing NPL experience such as Campbell, O’Neill, Humphrey, Roberts and Jones but they may just lack a bit of star power. Coach Alex Gaetaini is certainly backing the core group that brought them up to the job, but can they adjust to life in the top division?

Glenorchy Knights

Can they replicate Cup performances over a full season? 

For the past few seasons Knights have been an NPL level squad playing in the Championship. It has been an annual talking point, to debate just how this collection of players would fare if they playing at the level they truly belonged. Well we are about to get an answer on that one. Whilst they have demonstrated in the Lakoseljac Cup, by making the final in 2017 and taking Olympia to extra time in 2018 that they are capable of matching it with the best of the NPL, it is one thing to get themselves up for big Cup games, but mentally that’s very different from playing them week in week out. Knights will have gone into every league game for the best part of 3 years as favourites, this year, that won’t be as frequent of an occurrence. It’s a big mental shift and something new coach James Sherman will have to adapt to.

The Knights dominated the Southern Championship- Solstice Photography

NPL TASMANIA SEASON PREVIEW

PART 1- Payers to Watch

PART 2- The Burning Questions 

PART 3- The Crystal Ball