Slice of Cheese

The NPL Friday Forecast

Knights and Strikers to Renew Hostilities 

In many respects, the 2021 Men’s season was largely defined by the battle between the Glenorchy Knights and Devonport Strikers. The two produced arguably the most dramatic Lakoseljac Cup final in the history of the competition, with the Strikers winning the see-sawing clash on penalties, before battling out a title race that went all the way down to the final 15 minutes of the season, where the Knights turned the tables and emerged triumphant.  So naturally, Round 2 of the McDonald’s NPL Tasmania season is headlined by the blockbuster clash between the pair at Valley Road on Saturday afternoon, in what will be their first heads to head match-up since last year’s final day title drama.

For the Strikers it’s an opportunity for a slice of revenge, but far more importantly it offers the chance to deal an early blow in the 2022 title race against a fellow rival. Both sides started strongly last weekend with comfortable wins and both sides are expected to be pushing for silverware again in 2022. 

The Strikers could hardly have been more impressive last weekend down at the Den, they cut down a Lions side that had been flying throughout the pre-season and showcased some enviable depth in the process. When you have a player like Nick Lanau-Atkinson on the bench and regulars like Denehey, Parke and Fahim not even the squad, to record a 4-0 win on the road proves that this is a squad that bats seriously deep.

Knights likewise put a good foot forward, producing a fine attacking display with the likes of Austin Yost, Nicholas Naden and Hugh Undy all showing their offensive flair. Their ability to score and create chances isn’t really in question though, it’s at the back where the questions remain and the revamped defence will face a far sterner examination at the Portress this weekend. Mearns, Hill, Harrison and Hart are big name outs, they were the spine of the side and provided such strong defensive solidity that will be tough to replace. Still, with the likes of Luttmer, Gorrie, Schmidt and Bowman there is plenty of proven defensive talent in the squad for coach James Sherman to work with, but there’s no doubt he faces a tougher assignment than last season.

This should be a tantalizing battle and a very good yardstick of where these sides are at. It’s an old footballing adage that whilst league titles aren’t won in the early rounds, they can certainly be lost if you fall too far off the pace. Neither side will want to cede early ground, making this clash a vital one despite the season still being in its infancy.  

City Fighting History on Trip to Face South

THIS GAME HAS NOW BEEN POSTPONED DUE TO PLAYER AVAILABILITY DUE TO COVID.

Launceston City has travelled down to Darcy Street 14 times since the inception of the NPL TAS and not once returned home with a point to show for it. The record reads 14 wins from 14 games for South Hobart with a +55 goal differential and an average of 5 goals per game in that time span. It’s a statistic that makes for ugly reading for City and something they will be desperate to reverse.

That could prove tough this week however with Covid reportedly threatening to throw a spanner in the works of the City squad and coach Lino Sciulli in isolation. Key to their hopes of reversing that trend will be Jaden Fidra who was one of the standout performers in the league in Week 1 and he looks like a player who could be one of the stars of the season. He scored one, created another and was lively throughout by constantly taking on defenders. This is a player who offers pace, excitement and looms as a real jewel in the crown for City. In a game in which you’d expect South to have more the ball, someone like Fidra on the counter could be their best hope of hitting the back of the net.

South Hobart will be expected to take care of business in this one, just as they did in domineering fashion against Olympia to open the season. Despite the departure of some key offensive weaponry, goal scoring and chance creation was no issue for them as the Divin, Van Doorne, Berezansky front-line showed sharp movement and a good understanding with each other. With Knights, Lions and Devonport in their next 3 fixtures after this, things will soon kick up a gear but for now, they head into another game as the reddest of red hot favourites. 

Can the Warriors Finally Claim a Derby Victory?

Since the merger between Clarence United and Hobart Zebras, the newly formed Clarence Zebras are five wins from five games in the new-look Eastern Shore Derby against the Olympia Warriors. They swept them in both the 2020 and 2021 NPL TAS seasons and they will have every belief they can make it six derby wins in a row on Saturday night despite coming off a loss last week to Launceston City. On that showing the Zebras defence clearly needs to be sorted out, but they scored 3 goals and could have had more had they been a little sharper in front of the goal. They demonstrated a real threat in the final third that should serve them well against a Warriors defence that looked at 6s and 7s all too often against South Hobart last Friday night and needed Mitch Stalker to bail them out and keep the scoring down.

This looms as an important game for the Warriors and one that could really set the tone for the season ahead. Bounce back with a better showing, and it will be something that they can then build from. But lose again, drop to 0-2 with the Strikers to play next week and the rot could well and truly set in. Last Friday was a poor showing from the Warriors and they simply must respond under the lights at home against their Eastern Shore rivals. 

Bounce Back Opportunity for Lions and Roos

No side wants to start the season with a loss, especially a big one and that was the case for both the Kingborough Lions and Riverside Olympic in Round 1. Round 2, therefore, offers both a chance at redemption and the chance to gain a foothold in the new season.

The Lions entered last week with a bit of buzz about them based on their pre-season performances in the Summer Cup, and some big-name recruits. One bad performance doesn’t undo that, but it has perhaps tempered expectations slightly. If the Lions are to take that next step and push the sides that finished above them in 2021, then they need to be far more solid defensively than what they offered against the Strikers. This should be an easier fixture for them than the Strikers, but it won’t be straightforward by any stretch. The pressure will be on them to get the three points here, to fall to 0-2 to start the season would be disastrous given the hope and expectations around this playing group.

 

Riverside meanwhile were up against it at KGV, under siege at the back for much of the 90 minutes against a strong Knights side and whilst they did a reasonable job of limiting the damage for the first 75 minutes, the dam wall rather burst in the final quarter of an hour. In the corresponding fixture last season, they claimed one of their better results with a 4-4 draw which they can draw upon here to give themselves some belief after a tough opening match. Making the most of home ground advantage at Windsor Park is going to be pivotal to Roos hopes of improving upon 2021’s disappointing finish and against a Lions side under some early pressure, this represents an opportunity for them. 

Round 2

Saturday 26 March

South Hobart v Launceston City, 2:00 pm, D’Arcy Street, POSTPONED.

Devonport Strikers v Glenorchy Knights, 2:30 pm, Valley Road 

Riverside Olympic vs Kingborough Lions, 2:30 pm, Windsor Park 

Olympia Warriors vs Clarence Zebras, 6:30 pm, Empire Couriers Park

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