MANAGER: Out goes the most decorated domestic manager of recent times in Ramon Tribulietx and in comes the next most decorated fella in Jose Figueira. Very Bayern Munich of City to weaken a major rival in strengthening themselves and exactly what they should be doing too.
LAST SEASON: Won their first 14 games and went unbeaten through the entire regular season, only dropping two points in a 1-1 draw away to Southern... but then lost 3-1 at home to Team Welly in the semis in a bit of a shocker. Also fell short in the Champions League. So impressive for so much of the season but ultimately, by ACFC’s lofty standards, a disappointing campaign.
THE MAIN MAN: Good Lord, where do you even begin? The whole league has been in a bit of a chaotic state lately and as the dust now settles it’s pretty clear that Auckland City are in a great place to benefit from that, with a powerful squad of returning players abetted by some seriously enticing transfers. Cam Howieson seems like a fair bet, just running that show in the midfield.
UNDERCOVER BROTHER: Andrew Blake is a player who had himself well-placed to crack it in Scotland for a while there after signing with Hibernian. But a serious injury while out on loan at Edinburgh City curtailed all that and kinda put a halt to the lad’s career for a year and a half. He joins the team at a time when they’ve lost Dan Morgan, an underrated departure for sure, giving Blakey a lovely opportunity to get it all back on track.
YOUNG GUN: There’s been a bit made about the signings of Logan Rogerson and Myer Bevan who’ll plug the only real hole they had in that squad in providing consistent goals and creativity. Chuck the mastermind David Browne in there and a bit of Keegan Linderboom and there you go. It means, however, that there won’t be much room for Maro Bonsu-Maro in that starting team. But that’s perfectly fine for a dude who specialised in scoring goals off the bench last season, four of his six goals coming as a sub including 1-0 winners against Hamilton and Canterbury. Also peep at youth teamer Thomas Drillien if he gets a crack.
THE BIG QUESTION: How much is Jose Figueira going to change things at Kiwitea Street? I haven’t seen their preseason efforts but by the looks of those lineups it seems he’ll be bringing his wingbacks and 3-4-3 system back up north with him. It was a staple at Team Welly in recent times so it wouldn’t be a surprise but it would be a shake-up for those defenders in particular if indeed this is the case.
FORECAST FOR 2019-20: They’re the favourites, pure and simple. Championship pedigree throughout the squad and that’s been added to with a few hungry international calibre players. Yes, they’ve lost Ramon. But the other semi-finalists have all lost their managers too and City are best poised to roll through it. There’s a point to be made after their disappointing exits in the domestic and confederational fronts too. The rest of the Premiership is officially on notice.
MANAGER: Paul Hobson looks like a very smart appointment, replacing Chris Milicich who hung around longer than he had reason too given the state of the club. Hobbo has had big success at club level with Birkenhead (including two Chatham Cups!) and should do pretty well with this young squad.
LAST SEASON: Conceded heaps of goals, lost a heap of games, and completely reshuffled their squad midway through to focus on the young lads coming through instead. Finished two points off bottom. It was messy.
THE MAIN MAN: Despite conceding as many goals as they did last season, they actually had a really classy goalie in Englishman Nick Draper and he’s back again to wear the gloves. With what’s likely to be a very inexperienced team in front of him, having a dependable keeper in place is unfathomably huge.
UNDERCOVER BROTHER: Take your pick, mate. You’ve got a fair few choices with that youth push of the second half of 2018-19 now looking like a priority – best evidenced by their combo deal with Western Springs who have some of the best young players in the country on their books from outside the WeeNix/Ole duopoly (a few of whom were already at Waitakere so it’s more like a formalising of that connection). Plus there’s the Birkenhead fellas too and Lachie McIsaac is a pretty good undercover brother to focus on. A versatile player who has been in and around the NZ U23 squad this year and who got a good run of starts last season to build upon. There ya go.
YOUNG GUN: Again, there are a lot of them and how well the Waitaks are able to compete will depend on many of these young players stepping up because the likes of Sam Burfoot, Nick Draper, and Andrew Abba aren’t doing it alone. Dane Schnell is one to keep an eye on. He’s coming off a really impressive campaign in the midfield for the U23s in securing Olympic qualification. Only started five games last season, hopefully he’ll get a lot more this time. Hayden Aish would be another young gun to watch out for.
THE BIG QUESTION: A new coach, a more consistent vision, a more energetic and high-pressing style of footy... is this the breath of fresh air that they need at Waitakere to overcome some of the off-field dramas of recent times? Or is the youth push just an excuse because they can’t compete financially in the transfer market?
FORECAST FOR 2019-20: In reference to the big question, it could be both. I’ve not got very high expectations for them in terms of results but I’ll tell you what, bringing in Paul Hobson and holding on to a couple of their leaders from last time alongside some of the undeniable talent they have coming through has made Waitakere waaaaay more exciting to watch than they were shaping to be a few months back.
MANAGER: A little bit of a stunner here. With Danny Hay leaving to coach the All Whites, Suburbs pulled out the chequebook to nab another guy with international experience: former Footy Ferns gaffer Tony Readings, who’ll also be Director of Football at the club – a dual role plenty of other clubs are getting into as well.
LAST SEASON: Exquisite against teams outside the top four and finished second on the ladder despite a young and overwhelmingly kiwi squad... then went on to win the championship after beating Canterbury in the semis and Team Welly in the final. Scored the most goals, conceded the fewest. And a delight to watch as well.
THE MAIN MAN: It only seems fair to say Kelvin Kalua since he’s literally the only person left from the team that started the grand final. A grizzled veteran at 20 years old, how about it? All that turnover, coach included, makes it really impossible to judge what the situation’s gonna be here but realistically if we’re looking for main men then the dual goalscoring threat of Stephen Hoyle and Martin Bueno seems like a great one. That’s 22 goals combined right there – not quite on par with the 34 they lost between Callum McCowatt and Andre De Jong but close enough.
UNDERCOVER BROTHER: Mohammed Awad has been lighting it up at Melbourne Knights (alongside Hamish Watson) over the winter to the point where he was getting A-League buzz and word is that he’s back in town, a significant re-signing for a few reasons (ability, sure, but also he’s an Ole grad not following the crew to Team Welly). The Drake brothers are also right up there, having left Auckland City where the competition for places could get overwhelming.
YOUNG GUN: Last time they were full of them thanks to the Ole Academy connection. But it’s easy to forget that they had a fair few homegrown young guns the year before as well. With the likes of McCowatt, Just, Wilkins, Pijnaker, etc. graduating to professional deals around the world the likes of Kingsley Sinclair, Campbell Strong, Kelvin Kalua, and perhaps even Leon van den Hoven (after a stint in Holland) should get to return to prominence.
THE BIG QUESTION: Tony Readings’ best attribute with the Ferns was the positive culture that he was able to maintain throughout his time there. Can he do the same here in a short amount of time with a fresh squad of disparate players?
FORECAST FOR 2019-20: It’s impossible to tell. But Suburbs do have the one thing that any rebuilding team is desperate for and that’s money – hence they’ve done a great job of refilling this squad by poaching players from around the league. And they’ve nabbed some goodies too, so it’s not like this team should be plummeting to the bottom but with so much change you simply can’t make predictions.
MANAGER: You already know that Ricki Herbert runs the show out these parts.
LAST SEASON: At the midway point they were sitting in fourth and looking great as their front three of Semmy/Bueno/Tieku led the way. But then absolutely crumbled in the second half of the season to lose eight and of their last nine games (and they drew the other 4-4 with HBU). Still finished sixth, somehow.
THE MAIN MAN: As if you even have to ask. The last two seasons Tommy Semmy has been one of the absolute premier players in this competition. He had a trial with the Wellington Phoenix recently and for the Tron Wands to retain him is enormous. There’s no single player more important to his team than Tommy Semmy is to this one.
UNDERCOVER BROTHER: Brock Messenger is a signing that’s slid under the radar a tad more than it should have. A real choice fullback who has played in America, Australia, and Finland as well as stints with Canterbury, Wanderers SC, and Eastern Suburbs in the Premmy. He’s experienced beyond his years and a dude who’ll get stuck in for sure. And, of course, he’s a defender and Hamilton have been shy on those folks in recent times.
YOUNG GUN: No shortage of grads from the youth team here, that’s one thing that the Tron Wands have always had a focus on in their time in the National League. Raheem Hunter will be up there when he’s back fully fit. Will Stephen, Quest Tipping, and Bayley Foster as well.
THE BIG QUESTION: Will they be more like the team that started last season or the team that ended last season? Because there was an enormous difference between the two. Also who is gonna step up and replace Martin Bueno’s goals?
FORECAST FOR 2019-20: Having picked up some very useful looking import players, the fates of those blokes will have a lot to do with how Hamilton track. Jake Butler is a great addition to a midfield that needed some more presence and they have the talent in this squad to push for the semis if it breaks good. But then when has this team ever been consistent enough to do that? We’ll see. There’s plenty of reason to be optimistic.
HAWKE’S BAY UNITED
MANAGER: Brett Angell’s time with the club had clearly run its course so HBU hit the reset button by reinvigorating that local connection, hiring two co-coaches from the two strongest clubs in the region – Havelock North’s Chris Greatholder and Napier City Rovers’ Bill Robertson. Robbo will be a player-coach too, just as he was in leading NCR to the Chatham Cup in the winter season. Interestingly Greatholder was gaffer before Angell took over... and Robertson was his captain.
LAST SEASON: Terrible defence ruined everything as they conceded multiple goals in all but two games and conceded at least four in seven out of 18 games. Not even Sam Mason-Smith and all his goals could overcome that handicap. Finished seventh, behind the Tron Wands on goal difference.
THE MAIN MAN: It’ll be one of the imports but dunno which without having seen them play. Josh Signey is an English midfielder who spent his very early footy days at Manchester United. Ahinga Selemani and Dylan Sacramento are both Canadian forwards who’ll have to bring the goods to make up for Sam Mason-Smith’s absence. Yeah, not really sure yet.
UNDERCOVER BROTHER: All of the Napier City Rovers lads. They’re the Chatham Cup champs after all and there are several of them in this squad, just as you’d expect. HBU have really zoned in on a local flavour to this squad which is a little bit of a risk compared to the depth that certain other clubs have but then that Chatham Cup victory changed the perspective on that, giving them a platform to build from and a belief that they can compete. If you want a specific name then Liam Schofield scored in both the semi and the final in that run.
YOUNG GUN: Karan Mandair was close to U20 selection for that World Cup earlier in the year and he remains one of the better young players in this league. A defensive midfielder who does his job without a fuss and deservedly one of the very first players that the new coaching duo got locked in. Really like Jorge Akers too, as long as he’s not too scarred from being a part of that defensive unit last time.
THE BIG QUESTION: A lot of teams in the Premiership over the last couple years have relied on a singular force of striking brilliance and Sam Mason-Smith has been that for HBU. Plenty else has changed for them in the last few months but is there anyone in this squad capable of picking up that burden of goals? To be fair this is a question that most teams need to ask. Hamilton, HBU, and Canterbury especially.
FORECAST FOR 2019-20: Doubt we’re looking at a semi-final run despite how wide open that one looks. HBU are in a similar state to Tasman United who have also gone for the local priorities but who have supplemented that with a couple of very useful additions from elsewhere. Not sure Hawke’s Bay have quite done that but I s’pose there’s still time for a cheeky additional signing or two. But yeah, they can’t be worse at the back than last time but they also don’t have the same strength up top. If they can improve on seventh then they’re doing great.
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