Slice of Cheese

Women’s Super League: Season Preview

Solstice Photography

The Women’s Super League is set to return, as the third full season of the competition gets underway for 2019 this weekend. This year will see 6 sides competing, with Clarence, Hobart Zebras, Kingborough, Olympia and South Hobart all chasing Ulverstone, who went 21 wins from 21 games en route to last seasons title. Having won the League by some 28 points last season, the gap would seem a tough one to close. However, nobody saw the Zebras sliding down as they did after their dominant 2017 campaign, so this season is far from a foregone conclusion. It certainly looks an open race, and an exciting one at that, so lets take a look at the sides running in it.

Clarence United

2018 WSL Finishing Position: 7th, Record: 4-3-14

Burning Question: Where are the goals coming from?

With a potential centre half pairing of Anna Holmes and Zara Dixon to sit in front of the competitions leading goalkeeper, Amelia Vanderniet, Clarence have the potential to be an extremely tough side to break through at the back. We saw that against Kingborough in the Summer Cup, as they soaked up long periods of pressure yet only yielded two goals. The problem was they struggled to create much in attack. Canadian star Melissa Harrison led the way with 9 goals in 9 games last season, but beyond her, nobody else scored more than 2 goals. They will urgently need to find a new avenue to the back of the net, or it won’t matter how solid they are in defence.

Player to watch: Zara Dixon

Clarence will be delighted to be able to call upon the services of Zara Dixon again in 2018, having been without her last season. At her best Dixon is one of the best centre backs in the league. She is physical, marks tightly and puts in a good challenge. Rarely beaten in one on one duels and dominant in the air, Dixon should be able to tighten up a defence that conceded an average of 3 goals per game in season 2018.

Dixon is a welcome return for the Reds- Solstice Photography

Hobart Zebras

2018 WSL Finishing Position: 4th, Record: 11*-4-6

Burning Question: How quickly can the new look playing group gel?

Chris Hey has been a busy man over the off season and there is no doubting he has recruited well, which he needed to do after losing key players such as Roberts, Bowden, Johnson and Undy. In comes Steventon and Fagan from Launceston City, Fulton and Ferrier from South Hobart, and Lily Hulton from Taroona to add to an already formidable squad. Coaxing Shelley Cook out of retirement gives him another option in net and with Allie Berry set to return to action, this is a side that on paper looks arguably the strongest in the competition. But games aren’t won on paper and Kingborough exposed some major cracks in their recent Summer Cup game that indicated this Zebras team is still getting used to playing with each other. How quickly these news signings can coalesce will be pivotal to the Zebras fortunes in 2019, with the Warriors first up, we will quickly learn if they have gelled or not.

Player to watch: Zoe Nichols

A talented striker who is not afraid of doing the grunt work, watch for Nichols to be a lead contender for the Golden Boot in 2019. In the Zebras treble winning season, Nichols scored 15 goals in 15 games but injuries played a role in derailing her 2018 season and she never had a consistent run of games. She appears primed to play a major role up top for the Zebras this season and this could be the season the 22 year old breaks out into a major star of the league. Nichols is a clinical finisher, but the way she uses her body to shield the ball and ability to turn sharply make her one of the more complete forwards going around, and a defenders nightmare.

Nichols is primed for a big 2019- Solstice Photography

Kingborough Lions

2018 WSL Finishing Position: 6th, Record: 5-2-14

Burning Question: Are they ready to challenge for the title?

The Lions may have finished with a similar points tally in 2018 to that of 2017 and only one more win on the season, but their improvement was particularly noticeable. They went from a side who scored 23 goals and shipped 88, to a team that scored 45 and conceded 65. Throw in their surprise run to the Statewide Cup Final and it’s clear the Lions are trending upwards. The next step is to take the leap into contender status and the additions of Horgan and Manuela have them well on the way. Their young players are now beginning to mature into consistent WSL players and they have an ace in the deck in Laura Davis leading the line. The Lions are going to improve again this season, it’s just a matter of whether that is enough to close the gap to the top sides, the early signs through the Summer Cup suggest it just might be.

Player to watch: Hanna Manuela

One of the most experienced players in the competition, after having her 2017 season and the majority of 2018 wiped away by an ACL injury, Manuela is finally fit again. She played her first full game in 2 years in the Summer Cup final at her new club and was a rock at the back. The addition to the defence of Manuela has been noticeable already, bringing a sense of calm and leadership to the position that the young Lions have needed. She might have lost a yard of pace after the injuries, but her reading of the game and defensive intelligence will be absolutely crucial to the Lions this year.

Manuela was a rock in the Summer Cup Final- Solstice Photography

Olympia F.C Warriors

2018 SC Finishing Position: 1stRecord: 21-0-0

Burning Question: Will a lack of competition in 2018 haunt them?

Has a newly promoted side ever been considered favourites heading into the new season? Whether their Summer Cup triumph marks them as such is up for debate, but they certainly rank among the top contenders this season. They have quality across all positions and an enviable collection of young talent, but after a season of beating up on sides they were far stronger than, the one question mark looming over this side is whether there will be an adjustment period now that they are up against stiffer competition. They won’t be able to switch off and won’t have as much time on the ball this year and whilst the Summer Cup assuaged most those concerns, maintaining that level week in week out, will be their challenge. It’s one they are well equipped to deal with. With an embarrassment of riches in attack, and a midfield led by Inocent Michael and Olivia Bomford they almost guaranteed to produce plenty of goals, and having someone like Jenna Farrow in net means they will be able to keep them out at the other end too.

Player to watch: Madison Chambers

Still only 16 years of age, Chambers is probably the best young prospect in the entire league, and despite her youth, going to be an important player for the Warriors title hopes. A former Mini Matilda, Chambers is blessed with great speed and agility to go with eye catching ball skills. The prodigiously talented Chambers was probably overused in the Summer Cup Final, as the Warriors looked to play her in at every opportunity, which is unsurprising given she is such a weapon, and will be the main creator in attack for her side.

Chambers on the ball- Solstice Photograhy

South Hobart 

2018 WSL Finishing Position: 5th, Record: 10-1-10

Burning Question: Can they replace what they have lost?

After a first season in the WSL that was a runaway success, it must have been a summer of pure frustration for coach Craig Westwood, as he watched a number of the players from the squad he has been building for a number of season departing. Whilst moves abroad for University were inevitable, the departures of Fulton and Ferrier to Zebras is a tough blow. It robs them of their two brightest sparks in creating chances from last year. When you throw in a major injury to star striker Phoebe Djakic, who was runner up in the Golden Boot with 18 goals last season, suddenly South are faced with the prospect of replacing their entire starting front 3 from last year. Given it was the major strength of the side, South will be up against it this season and looking to rebuild. Expect them to field the youngest starting side in the Super League this season as they look to build up again, after a great first season that saw them exceed expectations and claim 10 wins for the season.

Player to watch: Pishon Choi

With those departures comes opportunity, and one player who could step up and fill that goal scoring void is the talented Pishon Choi. The 17 year old jumped onto the radar early last year by scoring one of the goals of the season, a stunning acrobatic volley against Clarence. From there she showed herself to be a versatile player, capable either in a midfield or more advanced role. Choi is a good decision maker who rarely wastes a pass and has a happy knack of bobbing up in goal scoring positions from midfield. With 3 goals in 3 preseason games, Choi has started the year strongly and she is going to be a key player to South’s fortunes this year.

Choi has been sharp in the Summer Cup games- Solstice Photography

Ulverstone

2018 Finishing Position: 1st, Record: 21-0-0

Burning Question: How do you follow up a season like 2018?

There are hard acts to follow, and then there is trying to back up the 2018 season of pure domination that Ulverstone produced. They bossed the rest of the competition to claim the title and post a perfect record of 21 wins from 21 games. Nobody could get near them, they won the league by some 28 points and as such you would imagine they should be heavy favourites heading into 2019. Alas, they won’t have all the members of that squad returning for them this time around, and with key movers Lucy Foote and Jazmin Gorrie set to miss parts of the season, their depth is set to be sternly tested. Their home ground fortress should bank them 7+ wins, so it will come down to whether they can repeat their efforts on the road. They can afford to drop off a little, as they were so far ahead of the rest of the league last season, but if they want any evidence of how hard it is to repeat a season like their 2018 campaign they need only look at the 2017 Zebras. They have the quality to defend their title, but it will be tougher than last season proved for them.

Player to watch: Emily Nellis

Has not lost a league game since 2016 and that’s not because she has missed time. A vital part of both the treble winning Zebras, and Ulverstone’s 2018 perfect season, Nellis offers the kind of defensive stability few others do.  Nellis is seemingly never caught of position and is probably the best pure defensive defender in the league. Her defensive nous, reading of the play and timing of her challenges make her a challenge for any striker unlucky enough to find themselves marked by her. If Ulverstone are less dominant in general play, more pressure will fall on Nellis to keep things tight at the back, and you can guarantee she will do just that.

Nellis has not lost a game she has played in the WSL- Solstice Photography