MANAGER: The TeeDubs had such a great structure and style under Jose Figueira... so no need to get drastic after he left. They just promoted the next man in line in Scott Hales, is all. Steady as she goes.
LAST SEASON: A little disjointed in the wake of the Club World Cup, seemingly parting ways with a key player every couple weeks after that one, but despite losing twice to ACFC in the regulars they won a famous victory at Kiwitea Street in the semis, going on to lose in the final to Suburbs. Only finished fourth on the ladder but that semi-final win made up for that, especially in such a uniquely challenging season.
THE MAIN MAN: Hmm, lemme think about that a second. The good thing for the TeeDubs is that while they may have lost their inspirational manager they have been able to retain a solid core of their best players – including a couple who had previously left. Andy Bevin is a bit of an underrated genius. Hamish Watson scores goals for fun. Mario Barcia is the main man in the midfield. Justin Gulley is a proper leader at the back. Yeah, they’ve got options.
UNDERCOVER BROTHER: With Mario Ilich moving back up north, suddenly Alex Palezevic might be about to step into a pretty prominent role. If he does then he’s a good bet to have a bit of a breakthrough season. Really decent centre mid that dude. Also check out Ollie Whyte showing up again after a year in Portugal. He’s on that U23s scene and will provide a heap of creativity and excitement.
YOUNG GUN: Team Welly now have that golden ticket with the Ole Academy and while most of that generation that helped win the title with Eastern Suburbs have gone pro, the next wave are already upon us and Marko Stamenic might be a young fella, he’s currently at the U17 World Cup, but he’s a proper talent. A lot of the Ole guys at Team Welly will simmer at the youth team level but Stamenic is one capable of making the jump.
THE BIG QUESTION: The TeeDubs still have a very strong squad here so the league-wide chaos shouldn’t affect them too much... but have they kept pace with Auckland City through all this? Because somebody has to.
FORECAST FOR 2019-20: They should be there or thereabouts. There’s more room for variables in the TeeDubs situation with Scott Hales stepping up as a first time gaffer at this level (compared to ACFC getting a multi-Premiership winning manager... from Team Wellington) but with the core that they have, with the attacking options in this squad, they’re a comfortable bet for second place as it all stands.
MANAGER: A rare bit of consistency compared to the rest of the league because Academy Director and U20 head coach Paul Temple is keeping on keeping on.
LAST SEASON: Bottom of the table, as anticipated. But after losing each of their first ten games they responded by taking 11 points from their last eight, with solid improvements along the course of the campaign – leading to Callan Elliot, Ben Waine, and Gianni Stensness all debuting for the senior team in the A-League.
THE MAIN MAN: Sam Sutton captained the team last season, knocking the ball around beautifully in midfield, and has spent a little bit of time training with the first team during preseason. He even snuck on to the bench of the FFA Cup game alongside fellow Premmy player Oskar van Hattum. Both were unused subs but it shows both are on the radar. Also throw some love the way of Ronan Wynne and Kurtis Mogg in defence after impressive stints last time.
UNDERCOVER BROTHER: Every year this team, being an U20 team and all, goes through a mass evolution as the older lads move on to university overseas or other Premiership clubs or opportunities around the world which means that a whole new class or undercover brothers emerge. Adam Hewson is a guy who could do some things. Steve Sprowson too. Owen Smith. And of course any first teamers that drop down for game time.
YOUNG GUN: Well they’re all young guns, aren’t they?
THE BIG QUESTION: The drama with the WeeNix every season, the thing that keeps them from being competitive in this league, is their inability to prevent those goals they keep conceding. It’s to be expected from a youth team in a senior competition – they only kept one clean sheet in 18 games last season. So can they cross that defensive barrier this time and give themselves a chance?
FORECAST FOR 2019-20: I mean, probably last place. But that’s fine because they’re working to a different script than everybody else. So long as the production line is still rolling out top notch prospects and maybe one or two even step up to A-League level then that’s the gig right there.
MANAGER: Jess Ibrom has been hired as Director of Football for Tassie and also head coach of the national league squad. He replaces Andy Hedge and curiously the bloke that he replaced, Davor Tavich, is back as one of Ibrom’s assistants.
LAST SEASON: Another team that got better as the season progressed. They only won once in their first ten (against bottom placed WeeNix) but a 0-0 draw away to Eastern Suburbs was a morale booster (the only points the champs dropped against teams outside the top four all term) and they went on to win two, draw four, and lose just two of their last eight. Good enough to sneak into eighth ahead of Waitakere by a single point.
THE MAIN MAN: Fox Slotemaker was their best player last season and was one of the first dudes re-signed for this one. Still a young fella but the poise he has on the ball and the control he shows and the control he exudes at the back there is immense. One of the better kiwi prospects in this league and you’d better recognise it.
UNDERCOVER BROTHER: Tasman are coming off a season where they really struggled for consistency up front. They rolled through a number of strikers and by the looks of it they might roll through a few more this time because they’re really covering their bases here. Undercover brother is whoever out of Jean Philippe Saiko, Facundo Barbero, and Jama Boss can be an 8-10 goal centre forward.
YOUNG GUN: Gotta be watching out for Jesse Randall here. And you’ve gotta be watching close because if you blink you’ll miss him, he’s that quick. Randall’s currently away with the U17s and is coming off a NYL stint with Team Wellington last year where he scored goals and a Central League stint with North Wellington where he... scored goals. You get the drift.
THE BIG QUESTION: Based on the players announced so far it’s pretty clearly a question of do they have the midfielders to hold their own in games? They have some useful defenders (Cory Brown’s in town!) and, for once, plenty of attacking options... yet defenders aren’t up to much if they don’t get protection and strikers are only as good as their service. Lots of expectation on Premmy veteran Alexis Varela unless there’s more cavalry on the way.
FORECAST FOR 2019-20: Just like Hawke’s Bay United, Tassie have looked to hit the reset button by focussing on the best players in the region but unlike HBU they’ve done a better job of filling in between the lines with some well-scouted outsiders. Have they done well enough to challenge for the top half of the table? Doubt it. But they’ve done a smart job of giving themselves an outside chance, depending on what the last five or six as-of-yet unannounced players in this squad are up to.
MANAGER: Throw ‘em up for Lee Padmore who is another of these Director of Football/Premiership coaches and who has a bit of a task on his hands to match what Willy Gerdsen had achieved in taking this lot to back to back semi-finals. Gerdsen was only let go for financial reasons as Mainland Footy merged a couple roles. Gerdsen’s since popped up as Director of Football at Glenfield Rovers in Auckland.
LAST SEASON: Rolled on into the semis yet again having won eight of their last ten games (not including the abandoned game in the wake of the terrorist attack), including a crucial 2-1 win against Team Welly that effectively won them third place at the TeeDubs’ expense. Only ACFC and Eastern Suburbs were able to inflict defeat upon the Dragons... but those defeats added up to five losses from five games – including a very tightly fought semi-final against Suburbs which CU lost 1-0.
THE MAIN MAN: It’s beautiful to see Aaron Clapham back... and he might need to revive some of that golden era form too because the Cantabs have lost some pretty important players since last season. When they were at their best in the last month of the term it was a very consistent starting team that was doing the trick. A very consistent starting team that has lost more players than it’s retained. Gary Ogilvie, Stephen Hoyle, Adam Thurston, Conor Tracey, Aaron Spain, Maksym Kowal, Dan McHenery... all were starting during that run and all are gone. And mostly replaced by emerging locals.
UNDERCOVER BROTHER: James Pendrigh missed a chunk of the season last time but get eighteen games out of him here and you’ll have eighteen games with a top notch homegrown central midfielder. Also Sean Liddicoat can play across the backline and has been in that U23s mixer of late too. Between Liddicoat, Cory Mitchell, and Tom Schwarz they’ll at least have a formidable central defence. The rest of the squad is a little less settled though.
YOUNG GUN: Luke Tongue played more often than not last season but only four games were as a starter. The ex-WeeNix midfielder moved to the Cantabs midway through the season before last and has been simmering ever since... with a few folks missing in that midfield all of a sudden he might be about to take this thing to a boil.
THE BIG QUESTION: Where did everybody go?
FORECAST FOR 2019-20: Back to back semi-finalists but with so many important players leaving and no significant transfer scoops to replace them then it’s difficult to see how the Cantabs can make it three outta three. Funky things can happen on a footy field but the power might be shifting in the South Island, just quietly. They’re in that tier of teams like Waitakere, Tasman, Hamilton Ws, and maybe even Eastern Suburbs where it could go either way. Hey but they’ve still got the Pride – how good are they going!
MANAGER: The esteemed Paul O’Reilly is back for his fourth season with the club which makes him the longest serving manager in the competition all of a sudden. Southern are one of only three clubs to retain their managers from last time and are the highest ranked team to do so.
LAST SEASON: The only team to take points off Auckland City during the regular season. A couple of inconsistent results along the way meant they fell well short of cracking the playoffs, nine points behind Team Welly, but they were also six points clear of Hamilton Wanderers in fifth place. Clearly the best of the rest.
THE MAIN MAN: It has to be someone with an Irish accent and with all due respect to captain Conor O’Keeffe you’ve gotta look at Garbhan Coughlan and the goals he has consistently scored for this team and wonder what he’s about to achieve with the best attacking support cast he’s ever had. Abdullah Al-Kalisy was excellent last season and local fellas like Ben Wade and Ben Deeley are only getting better and now Joel Stevens has been added to the mix. That’s tasty.
UNDERCOVER BROTHER: Stewart Catto deserves more credit than he gets from outside that Southern region. The sturdiest team out there would fall apart without a reliable gloveman and Catto is a keeper who rarely makes a mistake. And with the CB pairing of Stephen Last and Erik Panzer returning that bodes well for a defence that doesn’t concede a lot of goals but also doesn’t keep a lot of clean sheets. Also Norwegian Chris Wingate looks like a straight replacement for Tony Whitehead, the one main dude they haven’t been able to keep around, so pressure on his shoulders.
YOUNG GUN: Rory Findlay is a guy who filled in nicely when required last season, starting seven games at left back. He was the captain of Southern’s youth team and will probably be competing with Jordan Spain for that LB gig again – which is one of the few that isn’t obviously defined (and that was the case last season too). Shout out to Alex Cox as well.
THE BIG QUESTION: How? Like, in a league with so much fluctuation, how has this club been able to keep such a sturdy spine to their team and how have they been able to keep improving year on year and how do they keep finding useful little additional pieces to the puzzle? And I guess the other question is whether they can turn this promise into actual wins against the top teams, not just pesky draws now and then.
FORECAST FOR 2019-20: They could make the semis. Not even joking, with the stability that they have and the steady improvements that have come each year under Paul O’Reilly coupled with Joel Stevens adding that extra bit of pizazz to the attack and if Canterbury Utd or Hamilton Wands drop out of the top four then no team is better placed to take advantage of that than the Southerners.
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