2018-19 A-League preview, part 2: N-W
23 days to go and we take a look at the N-W's (no X, Y or Z) of this season's A-League26 September 2018 | Stuart Thomas
Former rep tennis player & golfer, former high school teacher & now full time sports writer
As the final signings trickle in and the FFA Cup enters the semi-final phase, the clubs are now in final preparations for league play. Warm up games are occurring all across the country, as the players strive for the match fitness required to be ready for the opening weekend in mid-October.
The full picture is taking shape and in what looms as potentially the most even and competitive A-League season for some time, each and every team will have high hopes as they begin their journey.
Sadly for the Jets, the fairy tale did indeed come to an end last season. It was somewhat unluckily cut short on grand final day by the failings of the VAR and the Hunter was not pleased.
The tragedy of that day should never mask the outstanding managerial performance of Ernie Merrick and the considerable improvement and development of much of the squad. The year will start with Roy O’Donovan still serving his suspension that emanated from the final and chaotic moments of last season’s decider.
The resilience of the squad was tested during their epic surge to the finals and with a now fit Ronald Vargas, the ever-developing Dimi Petratos and the new singings of Matthew Ridenton and Brazilian Jair Eduardo Britto da Silva, the Jets will start the season healthy and keen.
There may be a small and brief hangover, yet there is enough quality in Newcastle for the Jets to be serious contenders once again.
- Glen Moss, Nigel Boogaard, Ivan Vujica, Nick Cowburn, Daniel Georgievski, Johnny Koutroumbis, Lachlan Jackson, Nikolai Topor-Stanley, Matthew Ridenton, Jason Hoffman, Ben Kantarovski, Steven Ugarkovic, Jake Adelson, Angus Thurgate, Ronald Vargas, Dimi Petratos, Roy O'Donovan, Joseph Champness, Kosta Petratos, Jair Eduardo Britto da Silva, Mitch Austin, Kaine Sheppard
If I had a dollar for each and every time Tony Popovic would have stressed the word defence during the pre-season, my savings account would be burgeoning. It is no secret that it has been the Achilles heel of Perth Glory for some time and the Wanderers inaugural manager might just be the hard-nosed type required to eliminate it.
Glory add Ivan Franjic, Juan de Dios Prados Lopez and Matthew Spiranovic to strengthen that weakness and with a potent attacking force led by Diego Castro, Andy Keogh and the promising new man Chris Ikonomidis, Perth looks to have improved its balance considerably.
This season needs to be one of change and Popovic will certainly instil a more aggressive and physical mindset in his squad. If Perth can get that part of its game on track, their skill up front could see them become a force with which to be reckoned.
- Liam Reddy, Dino Djulbic, Alex Grant, Shane Lowry, Scott Neville, Jake Brimmer, Jacob Italiano, Neil Kilkenny, Joel Chianese, Chris Harold, Andy Keogh, Diego Castro, Ivan Franjic, Tomislav Mrcela, Brendon Santalab, Matthew Spiranovic, Tando Velaphi, Jason Davidson, Juan de Dios Prados Lopez, Chris Ikonomidis
The dominance of Sydney’s performances over the last two home and away seasons has had the inevitable, salary cap driven effect on the squad. It is hard to believe that the boys in blue could be even near serious contention this season after losing marksman Bobo, Johnny Warren Medallist Adrian Mierzejewski, and Dutch defender Jordi Buijs.
Throw in the loss of domestic experience in the form of Luke Wilkshire, David Carney and Matt Simon and it will certainly be a new look squad that takes to the pitch in Round 1.
However, Sydney have looked good in FFA Cup competition after an impressive and patient recruitment drive that saw Adam le Fondre, Jop van der Linden and Siem de Jong arrive for a crack at A-League football.
With Milos Ninkovic still pulling the strings and the exciting new domestic signings of Trent Buhagiar and Daniel De Silva, anyone who thought Sydney might take something of a fall under new manager Steve Corica, might need to think again.
- Andrew Redmayne, Alex Cisak, Thomas Heward-Belle; Aaron Calver, Rhyan Grant, Ben Warland, Alex Wilkinson, Michael Zullo, Josh Brillante, Alex Brosque, Milos Ninkovic, Brandon O’Neill, Paulo Retre, Chris Zuvela, Charles Lokolingoy, Trent Buhagiar, Daniel De Silva, Jop van der Linden, Siem de Jong, Adam le Fondre, Joel King, Cameron Devlin
If there is one A-League team more desperate for a change in fortune that the Phoenix, I’m not sure which one it is. Something has to give under new manager Mark Rudan and the rookie takes the reins on the North Island across the ditch with an ambitious desire to transform the struggling club.
There is plenty to suggest an upswing. Englishman Steven Taylor, Polish duo Filip Kurto in goal and midfielder Michal Kopczynski all arrive with promising pedigree. With stalwart Roy Krishna, Nathan Burns and the exciting Sarpreet Singh up front, the Phoenix will continue to trouble teams if they can remain solid at the back.
It looms as a season of rebirth for Wellington and things may take some time to improve. Hopefully the fans remain patient, as Rudan undertakes one of the most challenging tasks in the A-League right now. If he is able to achieve it, the entire competition will benefit.
- Andrew Durante, Liberato Cacace, Dylan Fox, Nathan Burns, Roy Krishna, Oliver Sail, Thomas Doyle, Louis Fenton, Ryan Lowry, Sarpreet Singh, Steven Taylor, Filip Kurto, Mitch Nichols, David Williams, Michał Kopczyński, Alex Rufer
Western Sydney Wanderers
As promising as the Wanderers’ new stadium in Parramatta looks, it can’t be the focus or a distraction, in what is an important season in the club's history. The Wanderers have looked homeless and lost in a physical and footballing sense since their fortress was demolished. Managerial changes have added to the frustrations of fans and the club needs an immediate reversal of fortune to re-engage with its faithful.
Markus Babbel steps in to apply a firm and experienced hand and if FFA Cup form is anything to go by, he is already starting to shape the Wanderers into an improved outfit.
Fellow Germans Patrick Ziegler and Alexander Baumjohann look like committed and proven pros who will provide grunt and resilience and Nick Fitzgerald could be set for a break out year with a fresh start in Sydney. Bruce Kamau (Melbourne City) and Tarek Elrich (Adelaide) add experience and Spaniard Oriol Riera might enjoy better service in 2018-19, from what looks an improved and impressive midfield.
The Sydney derbies might go up a notch this season, especially if the new look Wanderers can elevate themselves above Sydney FC early in the season
- Vedran Janjetovic, Keanu Baccus, Tarek Elrich, Brendan Hamill, Josh Risdon, Ruon Tongyik, Tass Mourdoukoutas, Tate Russell, Kearyn Baccus, Roly Bonevacia, Kosta Grozos, Marc Tokich, Jordan O'Doherty; Mark Bridge, Nick Fitzgerald, Bruce Kamau, Abraham Majok, Oriol Riera, John Roberts, Lachlan Scott, Jaushua Sotirio, Danijel Nizic, Patrick Ziegler, Alexander Baumjohann