Thursday, 2 March 2017


What They Did In 2016:

Yet another side unable to make finals in any grade during the 2016 New-FM season. The Under 23's were unable to follow up a historic Grand Final win with a repeat finals appearance, the 17's and 19's struggled and 1st Grade whilst finishing 5th, ultimately failed to make it into the playoffs.

Thornton simply lacked the quality needed in the 17's, the 19's were unable to put their best foot forward on enough occasions and a slow start to the season proved too costly for Darrel McAllister and his 1st Grade side. The aforementioned 23's were in a scramble for finals but as mentioned, fell short.

Darrel McAllister's side cruised to a win at the AthField in the later stages of 2016.

What's Changed:

With clubs changing coaches, players and even in some cases changing a fair chunk of the club hierarchy, Thornton have travelled into 2017 with the status quo in place. An already difficult side to predict and to take on, the Redbacks have recruited one or two handy names and look set for a bigger year in 2017.

The Under 23's have lost a fair few players but will again be looking to start well in what is the most difficult competition to predict. Lower down, the Under 17's have brought in a lot of new faces. A handful of ex-Maitland players are local to the area and add something different but the sides are all still learning each other's gameplans. 

Shane Warden is one of a few new Thornton players wearing the black and white Maitland shorts this pre-season.

Where Best Chances Are:

Thornton's best chance of making finals is at the very top. A solid 1st Grade outfit in 2016, they've managed to hold onto most of their key players and if guys like Jamie Subat and Nathan McAllister can find their peak form and keep it consistently through the year, the Redbacks will push for finals.

Darrel McAllister's side might not beat the heavyweights of the competition but they're capable of beating the majority of their opponents. The season starts with a few away games in a row as normal due to cricket and it's in this first few games where the bar needs to be set. They can ill-afford another slow start.

Jamie Subat will be hoping to reach his best form in front of goals this season.

Where They May Struggle:

Whilst there's some exciting youth talent at Thornton, the depth and quality of the Under 17's and Under 19's is simply not up to the level of other clubs. The Redbacks have found it difficult to ward off the likes off Maitland from poaching all the good local talent.

There's some handy footballers in the 17's and 19's but as a unit they have yet to find their form and it's hard to see the quality shining across the park. Losing star young goalkeeper Blake McDonnell to the Lambton Jaffas leaves a massive void and defensively questions were asked in 2015, 2016 and will be asked again this year.

Caden Taylor is one of a few young Thornton defenders who'll be looking to excel in 2017.

Additional Thoughts:

Thornton are a side that always slip under the radar. Coaches forget what a difficult proposition it is to defeat a determined Redbacks side. In terms of community and player numbers they are the league's smallest club but a tight-knit, close-bonded team is always a danger.

McAllister's Redbacks will be eyeing off a vacancy left by Lake's exit from the competition. They won't finish on top by all means but making the finals in 2017 might be slightly easier. Missing out last year will have them fired up for a fast start and Cessnock better be weary in Round 1.


What They Did In 2016:

Toronto-Awaba across all grades collectively were the poorest team in the 2016 New-FM competition. 1st Grade picked up some respectable results towards the back end of the year and the 17's on their day were a handy side that beat eventual winners Lakes at Lyall Peacock Field. The 19's only won two games all year and the less said about the 23's the better.

Things started in pretty poor fashion. Heavy pre-season losses to Lambton's U20's and Morisset United had ominous alarm bells ringing and even though they mounted a comeback, they were dumped out of the FFA Cup by Beresfield United. Round 1 saw them hammered by Lakes and it set up a season of failures. 

Simply unacceptable at times. The Stags surprisingly were unbeaten in two against Belswans, stunning the eventual Grand Finalists with a late-season 2-1 win. Going to Cooks Hill and beating them was a huge victory but losing 6-0 at home on Old Boy's Day to Singleton was nothing short of an embarrassment.

Toronto's 2016 season resembled a horror show at times. Only a reversed result against Wallsend saved them from the spoon.

What's Changed:

Behind the scenes, Toronto-Awaba is a different place. A couple of influential committee members have departed the club after a falling out and the Head Coach position has been given to Adam Routledge or Rudda as he's known. He's taken the reigns and a few that have left weren't happy with it but nonetheless, the coach deserves his chance to improve the side.

On the field, recruiting goalkeeper Blake Redman helps partly to fill a massive void left by the departure of Daniel March. Grant Morrow adds something up front with Nick Roberts and the supposed but still unconfirmed signing of former Cooks Hill coach Blake Glennie will add more quality.

The 19's are also a changed outfit from the one that picked up just two wins in 2016. Luke Gibbons, Connor Brady and the Winslade brothers headline a group of 17's players graduating to the 19's in 2017. Add in former Lakes duo Caleb Morley-Davies and Alex Matthews and in form goalscorer Connor Morgan and you have yourself a better side on paper.

Connor Morgan and Luke Gibbons have been combining for a few goals in pre-season.

Where Best Chances Are:

Toronto's best and in some eyes only chance of making the finals in 2017 are through the Under 19's. It'll be an extreme success if they manage to do it in such a tight competition but the players they have are capable of stirring up some big results.

Attack is where the Stags' 19's have in pre-season and will during the season shine but it's defence where the questions will be asked. Saving and stopping goals will be the thing that either makes or breaks the season for Lindsay Jamieson's side.

Alex Matthews is one of a few new faces in the Under 19's team at Toronto-Awaba.

Where They May Struggle:

1st Grade have recruited some decent names but it could all fall apart rapidly. Toronto have had a lean spell of failure and there's a few people involved, including the coaching staff who simply don't like losing. Players will need to be calm with each other and understand that rebuilding takes time.

Anyone tipping the Stags to make the top four is probably a bit too one-eyed. At this point, restoring some respect and avoiding the bottom two or three spots is probably the likely goal for Adam Routledge and his side. Once a grand old club, the Stags have been on their knees at various times in recent seasons. The next three years is the most crucial time in the club's survival. 

Additional Thoughts:

It's not all doom and gloom. Belmont-Swansea proved a lot of doubters wrong last season and if Toronto can do the same it'll be just as great for the competition. The youth talent in that 19's squad makes the $5 admission the Lyall Peacock Field worth it alone and if 1st Grade can click, football at the Stags might be once again a decent thing to watch.

Adam Routledge will no doubt aim to pull Toronto away from the foot of the table.


What They Did In 2016:

They only went and did the impossible once again. After an epic 50-year drought breaking title win in their first season back in the league, the Red Devils proved doubters wrong week after week, they travelled to a hostile Macquarie Field and sent the Roosters packing once again and then survived a nervy shootout against a desperate trophy-hunting Belswans side. Don't ever write off the spirit of Wallsend F.C

Disappointment in the 23's as a handy side couldn't keep consistency together when it mattered the most and missed finals. The 19's had a poor season and the 17's, despite being one of the best sides all year where demolished by arch rivals West Wallsend in the Semi Finals. All in all, disappointment all round for the lower grades at Wallsend.

But that Grand Final win was something to savour for everybody involved. It wasn't as historic and wasn't celebrated in the same style of the 2015 title but it was significant and added another chapter into the storied history of the mighty Red Devils.

There'll be a lot of Grand Final-winning faces missing from Wallsend in 2017.

What's Changed:

It's all out, all change at The Gardens in 2017. A lot of the championship-winning heroes have left the club bound mostly for Belmont-Swansea and Kahibah among other clubs. Big-time players like Dave Hodgson and Chris Gazzard have left a hole that the club needs to fill.

After losing Josh Rufo mid-season, the Red Devils were player-coached by Dave Hodgson but now with Hodgo gone, club stalwart Chris Gallagher is back to take the reigns of the side. Some players have come up from the Zone League, some have come from elsewhere but all want to pull on the shirt and play for the pride of Wallsend F.C.

Youth is where Wallsend's planning to excel over the next three years. The likes of Jackson Manning and Darcy Hall have been fast-tracked to Under 23's and will at some stage likely play 1st Grade. The 17's have stepped up to the 19's with coach Craig Tselembis in charge once again. The future is the key at Wallsend as they look to build their potential for an NPL push.

Goalkeeper Dylan Meyrick is one of many exciting prospects at Wallsend.

Where Best Chances Are:

The Under 19's look to be the side to watch at Wallsend F.C. On paper they look a really handy side with some decent additions from last year to this year. The embarrassment of losing heavily to Westy in the Semi Finals will be driving some players on and despite losing Manning and Hall to 23's, defenders like Jye Hancock look likely to fill the void fairly well.

The reality is to have an eye on all Wallsend grades. They're a club that aim for finals across the board and if there's anything that's been learnt these last two years, it's to never doubt Wallsend in 1st Grade. The 23's will be a different outfit and the 17's too despite having loads of new players could prove to be a very handy side.

19's defender Jye Hancock has been quality since arriving at Wallsend.

Where They May Struggle:

It's always risk v reward when you bring youth players into the senior set-up. The 23's especially could struggle if these players lose their confidence and suffer a few defeats on the bounce. 1st Grade as well have lost a lot of quality and it could be different for some returning players to be sitting potentially mid-table instead of pushing for the top two. That's if it goes bad which by all means may not happen.

The thought of a three-peat of titles will be appealing to those following Wallsend but it's highly unlikely after such a turnover of players. A good start to the season though would certainly make things very interesting. Even if they sneak into finals in fourth, anything is possible.

The 19's will be relying on Jacob Rae to once again score a few goals like he did last season.

Additional Thoughts:

The club that simply never gives in. Wallsend enter 2017 as a different beast compared to previous years. The future of the club is firmly at the forefront of what they're planning to do over the next three years. The 1st Graders will be aiming for finals once again and will hopefully have some quality youngsters pushing for spots. Winning the title is a huge ask so count out the three-peat for now.


What They Did In 2016:

West Wallsend's 1st Grade side were good enough to beat some poor sides last year. They demolished Cessnock and Toronto at Westy and were highly competitive in both Wallsend derbies, the second of which saw a controversial refereeing display prove very costly for those in blue and white.

At the end of the day though, Gary Rowe's side failed to push for finals. Discipline was poor and at some times outright embarrassing. Yellow cards left, right and centre, points being stripped due to a suspended player featuring in the line-up and a player banned for four weeks for social media abuse of a referee. It was all just one big headache for Rowe and the Westy hierarchy.

The Under 23's were downright poor at times. Losing the Wallsend Derby 7-0 was as poor a result as you'll see in New-FM football and then there was the night Belswans came to Westy and put eight past this side. Totally hapless at times and improvement needed.

Where Westy shined was the younger grades. Both the 17's and 19's pushed for the minor premiership and both sides featured on a massive Grand Final morning. Hundreds showed up to cheer the Westy boys on but they went down in both games to Lakes and Belswans respectively.

The Under 17's destroyed Wallsend to make the GF but were outplayed by Lakes on the day.

What's Changed:

In the senior set-up, not much has changed at Westy. Gary Rowe is still in charge and a lot of the players have returned, with a couple of new additions as well. All in all, Rowe has called for and is hoping for a more disciplined effort this season and some luck with injuries to try and keep a full-strength side on the park week by week.

Lower down, a lot of the Under 17's have aged up to the Under 19's and created what is on paper a brilliant line-up under new coach Steve Thomson. The 17's have a fair few newcomers but they're exciting newcomers and the side also looks high-quality on paper ahead of the season opener.

Khye Drayton is one of a few 2016 U17's players still eligible for that grade in 2017.

Where Best Chances Are:

Under 19's, 17's and indeed 15's if you want to include that should all make finals. West Wallsend took a huge step forward with youth talent last season. The players love the club and want to be as successful as they possibly can be wearing the famous blue and white of the Bluebells.

The Under 19's enter the season as potential premiership favourites and have a lot of opponents gunning for them. Their arch nemesis and the only thing that stood between them (when in 17's) and a famous title Lakes have departed and the likes of Knight, Taylor, Kramer and co. will be gunning for the trophy this season. Make no doubt.

The Westy 19's are early favourites to bring home a trophy in 2017.

Where They May Struggle:

The 1st Grade and Under 23's sides haven't exactly set the world alight in pre-season and there's already some early worries. Whilst several were out, seeing Westy smashed 7-0 by Cooks Hill and players picking up unnecessary yellows was a real concern.

If Gary Rowe's side can keep players uninjured and more importantly not suspended then chances are they'll be decent enough for a mid-table finish and potentially a finals push if things work out but if they can't then lingering around the foot of the table will be on the cards. There's a lot of good teams that'll punish inconsistency.

Westy's hard-hitting reputation has brought the a lot of disciplinary headaches in the past.

Additional Thoughts:

The Westy faithful that show up to Wembley and always cheer their side on with the sort of one-eyed support that is synonymous with West Wallsend should show up at 9:15am every home game. The 17's and 19's deserve the same amount of support 1st Grade get and they'll likely get it. The youngsters of Westy are entertaining, passionate and offer some brilliant football at times. 


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