We’re less than two weeks out from another delightful summer season of kiwi Premiership football and that means we’re probably about a day short of that date from getting those beautiful complete squad lists... but more than ever before the clubs (well, most of them) have been getting in on the fun and announcing new signings as things have gone along.
There’ll be more on the way, possibly even a few blockbusters, but in the interest of keeping that hype at a pot-rattling boil let’s have a geeze at some of the Very Big Deal moves that have already been made. Gotta stay on that buzz, after all. Some of these deals are statements of intent, others are fantastic player opportunities, a couple are more symbolic than anything else... all are reasons to be excited for another Premmy season.
By the way, I haven’t put any fresh import players in here because that’s just way too hard to judge. All imports are expected to be decent anyway (Hamilton Wanderers in particular have signed a couple brow-raisers). Away we go.
Joel Stevens (Southern United)
With all four of last season’s semi-finalists replacing their coaches and a fair bit of player turnover there as well – none more than the defending champs – it’s been a time of chaos lately and in times of chaos a team like Southern United, completely bucking the trend with their unique stability, could really thrive. Top four possibilities? Absolutely. And if they do get there then it’ll probably have a lot to do with local hero Joel Stevens, returning to the southerners after some very happy times in Wellington and some slightly less happy times in Sweden. Stevens came back and played for Team Welly towards the end of last season but didn’t quite fit into that formation, either playing off the bench or at wingback. Well, at Southern he should get to slide into a front three that is as good as any in the comp alongside Garbhan Coughlan and Adbullah Al-Kalisy (maybe import signing Josh Sansucie too). A full kiwi international who is still only 24 years old and has been one of the best creative weapons in this league in the past. Outstanding get for Southern and a guy who has the capabilities to take them over the top.
Myer Bevan (Auckland City)
Centre-forward was a problem position for Auckland City last time around. Emiliano Tade was making his name in South Africa instead of at Kiwitea Street. Javier Lopez was signed to be that man but after scoring three times in the first two games he then settled down and was eventually dropped in favour either of a false nine in Fabrizio Tavano, import forward Patrick Lundemo, or youth grad Maro Bonsu-Maro. MBM’s goals off the bench got him that gig for the semi-final but that semi didn’t go so well. Bonsu-Maro should still be a valuable player for City but they needed a genuine centre-forward to run the show... enter Myer Bevan.
When Bevan scored a double against Honduras at the U20 World Cup a couple years ago his career was on the up and up and up. He signed with Vancouver Whitecaps and would score on his starting debut for the All Whites. But then times got tougher, with Bevan released by Vancouver after struggling to make an impact for their reserves and then missing out after trials in Poland and with the Wellington Phoenix. But he was the golden boot at the recent Oceania U23s with 12 goals in five games and he’s walking into a perfect situation to be successful at Auckland City. It’s make or break for Myer... but that’s exactly the kind of fire in the belly situation that a proper striker loves. He’ll get excellent support too from the likes of David Browne, Keegan Linderboom, MBM, Dylan Manickum... and another fella we’ll mention later.
Jake Butler (Hamilton Wanderers)
For so long a face synonymous with Waitakere United, captaining them to four straight titles at the start of the decade and leading them at a couple Club World Cups too. 34 year old Butler is a legend of the Premiership. No doubt about it. However Butler left the Waitaks midseason last time around, seemingly not in the best circumstances either (which would not put him in very exclusive company considering most people seem to leave Waitakere United in less than ideal circumstances these days, oh well), and instead joined Werribee City in the Victorian NPL and proceeded to win the club golden boot and was joint player of the year so no dramas about the gas left in the tank. He’s now back in the Premmy but it ain’t for old faithful, no sir, he’ll be lining up in the midfield for Ricki Herbert and Hamilton Wanderers instead. Great get for the Tron Wands who certainly could use another veteran leader in the middle of the park to keep those standards up for the full eighteen games. Plus it’s great for the league to have one of its icons hopefully getting a new lease on life.
Marko Stamenic (Team Wellington)
He’s one of the top young midfield prospects in the country, currently away with the NZ U17s as they prepare for the World Cup, and that alone is enough to be pumped for this signing. Add in an impressive winter season with Central League champions Western Suburbs and you’ve got another bonus. But there’s another aspect to this as well because Stamenic is one of the top fellas in the next wave of Ole Academy talent, with Ole partnering with Team Welly for this upcoming season and you may recall how their partnership with Eastern Suburbs went last time... rather well is the answer. Obviously the crew that led Suburbs to the title have mostly all gone overseas now, and the one who didn’t is at the Wellington Phoenix, so we can’t expect quite the same influence on the TeeDubs who to be fair have a pretty stable looking squad already (including a few crucial re-signings), but Stamenic is proof that there’s plenty more where Callum McCowatt, Eli Just, Nando Pijnaker, et al. came from.
Adam Mitchell & Mario Ilich (Auckland City)
Jose Figueira taking over at ACFC was always going to mean one or two players following him, it usually does with well-liked managers (insert inevitably-despised Mark Rudan reference here). None were more blatantly likely than these two. After all, they’re both Central United lads with Croatian heritage who just happened to find themselves at Team Welly under Figueira last season – Ilich after having established himself as a premier local midfielder over the last couple years and Mitchell after popping back midseason from a few ventures in Europe (playing in Serbia, Slovenia, and England).
They also just happen to be superb additions for ACFC. Remember that they’ve lost Te Atawhai Hudson-Wihongi to the Wellington Phoenix and thus there goes a centreback/centre-mid utility. Well, here’s a centre back and a centre-mid to replace him. Both ought to be regular starters, although Ilich has more competition from the likes of Cam Howieson, Albert Riera, and Yousif Ali. Which only goes to show how stacked this Auckland City team shapes to be yet again... plus this is an excellent example of the old Bayern Munich strategy of buying top notch players from your closest rivals, thus improving your team whilst weakening theirs at the same time. Ruthless, dudes.
Aaron Clapham (Canterbury United)
Jake Butler leaving Waitakere might be for the best but it’s still gonna be a funky one seeing him in blue and white instead of red and white. Same as it was seeing Aaron Clapham in yellow and black instead of red and black. Aaron Clapham is another whose status in this Premiership is beyond criticism, an absolute icon. He deserved the chance to play a bit of Champions League and he even scored at the Club World Cup with Team Wellington but now he’s back in Canterbury and seeking to keep this team in semi-final contention as they move into a new era with Lee Padmore in charge and Willy Gerdsen let go (for financial reasons rather than footy ones). Not a huge amount coming out of the Cantabs camp yet and they’ve lost a couple important players already (Aaron Spain and Stephen Hoyle) so a little boost like this one goes a long way.
Bill Robertson (Hawke’s Bay United)
HBU fell to pieces last season. Their defence was just absolutely disastrous, conceding 55 goals in 18 games. They conceded at least four goals on SEVEN occasions. A far cry from their semi-final prominence of a few years ago. Well, Brett Angell has since left and that cleared up a managerial spot and in a bit of sneaky thinking the HBUers managed to fit two fellas into that spot – Bill Robertson and Chris Greatholder combining forces. But Robbo, the man with the all-time most appearances for this club, is also registered as a player and whether or not he actually laces the boots up every week his presence is a big deal for a club that has hit the reset button and focused on promoting the best players in the region – the bulk of their signings so far coming from either Chatham Cup champs Napier City Rovers or Havelock North (not coincidentally the two teams that Robertson and Greatholder coach in winter). Robertson had a tricky time at Waitakere United in the first half of last season but then started both the semi and the final for Team Wellington so you know he’s still got it. For a team struggling for defenders and struggling for identity here’s a guy who addresses both.
Jean-Phillipe Saiko (Tasman United)
Tassie are working on a similar strategy to Hawke’s Bay and nobly looking to provide pathways for local players, especially the young fellas. That’s a tricky one to balance with also getting results against the superpowers in this league so Tasman have had to get clever with a few risky outsiders as well and one guy who has the potential to really give Tasman that something special is New Caledonian international Saiko. This is a guy who has scored 11 goals in 8 internationals and who has played professionally in the lower leagues of France. At 29 years old he knows exactly what he’s doing and for a Tasman team that never really found a proper centre-forward presence last season it all just makes sense. It could also go the complete opposite way but the recent history of top Oceania players doing wonders at NZ Premiership level is preeetty sweet.
Stephen Hoyle & Martin Bueno (Eastern Suburbs)
Picture this: you’re coming off a championship winning season in which you had two of the top three scorers in the league. But Callum McCowatt and Andre De Jong have both moved on to professional deals now, as have all of your grand final starters except for Kelvin Kalua. That leaves plenty of holes in the ol’ squad but none as difficult to fill as that most crucial of role-players... the goal scorers. So what do you do? You look at the other clubs around the league and you sign the top scorers from two of them. Stephen Hoyle scored 10 times for Canterbury last season, starting all 18 games. He’s consistently been one of the most reliable strikers in this league scoring 36 times in the last four seasons for the Dragons. Meanwhile Marty Bueno was a breakout player last time around as the Uruguayan bagged 12 goals for the Tron Wands, scoring when they were winning and then still scoring even after their season went to piss. Eastern Suburbs look like they’ll have a young kiwi twist to them again this time around so if you’re looking for proven centre forwards to run the show around then they can’t honestly have done much better.
Mario Barcia (Team Wellington)
There’s been a fair bit of shuffling going on with that Team Welly squad since they got back from the Club World Cup with numerous players seeking other opportunities in the wake of that one, making their semi-final win away to Auckland City even more impressive considering they’d lost four of their starters from the team that faced that same opposition in the first game of the season. Mario Barcia was one of the first to go, taking up a contract with Semen Padang in Indonesia, but he’s back in the capital now and not a moment too soon considering they’d already lost their other Midfield Mario (Ilich). Hamish Watson and Justin Gulley have also made their way back (not sure on Scott Hilliar but signing two import defenders might be a clue to the negative there) and those are also enormous re-acquisitions. But Barcia gets the focus since that midfield with he and Ilich had been such a key part of their success and salvaging some stability there is massive. Barcia is a brilliant passer, an organiser in the middle, and he scores the odd screamer as well. Good get.
Logan Rogerson (Auckland City)
Yeah just in case the Navy Blues didn’t have enough attacking talent already they also snapped up U23s captain Logan Rogerson who is coming off a season in Germany (where injury hampered his time there) in the same division that Sarpreet Singh and Tom Doyle currently find themselves in and had been hoping to go back but after leading the Oympic team all the way through the Pacific Games, a couple friendlies against Australia, and then a super successful qualifying campaign he’s now ready to pick up where he left off in the Premmy from a couple years ago with the WeeNix. Rogerson’s looking way more refined as a player these days and his unselfish creativity and pacey skill make him a tantalising option at Kiwitea Street. Plus he gets to continue his combination with Myer Bevan, which was straight up sizzling at the Olympic qualifiers.
Sam Burfoot (Waitakere United)
He was there representing the club when they filmed the Sky Sport promos. Which makes sense since he played for new gaffer Paul Hobson at Birkenhead, winning two Chatham Cups together. But Waitakere’s media efforts being what they are that’s literally all we have to go with. Granted they have got a deal in place with Western Springs so expect a few of their best prospects to rock up at the Waitaks (they already had a few of them last time anyway – Dane Schnell would be the best of those to retain after he made the U20 World Cup squad and impressed in midfield for the U23s recently too).
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