Before any complaints start filing in, believe me these predictions have been proven wrong many times over the last few years. Think the competition as a whole will tighten up but going on how things have looked during pre-season and how the teams look on paper, this is what Newysports is tipping for 1st Grade in 2019.
11th Place: Cessnock City
Singleton were given the Newysports' spoon tip last year and we all know how that panned out. Cessnock City once again have a new coach (a fourth in as many years) and new hopes but the questions have to be there given their record throughout the Heritage Cup and trial games. Injuries have hindered them but at this stage just not sure how things will pan out up there at Turner Park. Hoping it's proven wrong of course.
Key Player: Greg Anderson
Highly important to keep their on-field leader and defensive rock very fit. If you take him out of the team then things may well fall to pieces. He is that vital.
10th Place: Kahibah FC
Kahibah have chopped and changed their squad and are hoping for an improvement on and off the field but at this very point in times there's a few teams looking better. Kahibah should and probably will be better this season but it's such a tight competition on paper that the only place to put them at the moment is where they finished last year, in 10th.
Key Player: Heath Kepreotes
In a similar situation to Cessnock, Heath Kepreotes could very well be the heartbeat of Kahibah this year. With a young centre back partner in Ryan Stuchbury and others in that mold in the squad, his experience and leadership is paramount.
9th Place: Toronto-Awaba
Toronto will improve greatly on last season but how much is the question? There's some excitement over all the new names at the club but they haven't set the whole on fire in their trial matches and in a similar silk to Kahibah they just don't tick enough boxes at this point in time to warrant anything higher than a ninth-place tip.
Key Player: Nathan McAllister
Macca is a goalscoring machine and has proven in recent years to be one of the most potent attackers in the league. If you take him away from the Stags lineup you're left with a hole perhaps too big to fill. Can he be the one to help lead them back to former glories?
8th Place: Wallsend FC
Tipping Wallsend to finish lower purely based on other teams like New Lambton and Singleton looking like improved outfits. Wallsend have recruited decently but big questions are on them once again this year to perform on a consistent basis. They've got their gamechangers but they need to prove they're a contender.
Key Player: Zac Hamilton
Of course your Ty Goldsmith's and Wez Pryce's are vital but the Reds have Zac Hamilton supposedly lining up as their 1st Grade keeper. It's without a doubt a step-up for the former 19's shotstopper at other clubs and it'll be a baptism of fire against Southy featuring Dino Fajkovic this weekend. A big year for Zac Hamilton.
7th Place: New Lambton
New Lambton are hoping to brush off the also-rans tag of the past two seasons and push hard for finals. Still think they've got a lot to prove heading into the new year but Jim Foley on paper has a team he can work his magic with. The Eagles are much stronger in terms of depth with most if not all positions covered in case of injuries.
Key Player: Riley Taylor
Who else could it be? The Eagles routine goalscorer was hindered by injury last season but is looking to have a big season in front of goals. They might not rely so heavily on him this year with guys like Steve Koulis joining up but Taylor is no doubt the main man.
6th Place: Singleton Strikers
Singleton are a largely unchanged squad with only Jake Barner being added to the team from last season. With that said, Barner is a very impressive signing for the club and will add a fair bit but there'll always be questions of their depth and consistency. If they find their stride they'll be back in the finals hunt.
Key Player: Jordan Phelan
Yes Joe Civello is potentially their main weapon and other players like Hayden Nicol will likely put their hand up but further back it's all about the big Englishman. Singo are a team that tend to find themselves in tight matches so he's ever important this year.
5th Place: Thornton Redbacks
Thornton have done all they can to fly under everyone's radar but a victory over Killarney Vale certainly raised an eyebrow or two. As for signings, Jacob Golding, Shane Farmer and Kyle Williams are all handy grabs for the team and add some more quality to what was a team that finished 2nd last season.
Key Player: Unknown
Yet to see them play and really unsure on who'd you'd choose at this stage. They'll likely want Jye Mackellar to be at his best but it's more so a case of keeping the consistency all year and improving on what they did last year. Watch this space.
4th Place: West Wallsend
The Grand Finalists from last season are a largely unchanged squad and that is a big bonus although it's yet to be discovered how they'll go under new coach Brendan Slade. Long-term coach Gary Rowe has left a very strong side and probably the key personnel change is Blake Redman stepping in between the sticks.
Key Player: Bailey Jensen
Again this is a team that have strong depth so there's no one player who's omission would wreck everything. Bailey Jensen's versatility has proven vital and he is a crucial piece of the puzzle. A lot of other teams would love someone like him in their lineup.
3rd Place: Belmont-Swansea
At last the long-time Championship drought came to an end with a win 32 years in the making. They beat Westy in the 1986 State League decider and did the same in the NL1 GF last year. Josh Rufo's departure is the main one whilst player-wise there is simply no replacing someone like Josh Sutton for speed and skill or indeed Joel Shearer for leadership and legend status.
Key Player: Attackers
It's one area that Belswas constantly toil away at. Injuries have caused one or two issues in pre-season but it's a pressure year for the likes of Cameron Lodge, Harry Rapp and Joel Nicholson. Just a few of the names Mick Stafford will turn to for goals.
2nd Place: South Cardiff
Since Newysports last saw Southy play in pre-season they've casually added names like Daniel Casciaroli and Hakan Canli to their squad. That's some high quality NPL experience coming into a team that already features a lot of talent. Southy's really looking a force to be reckoned with in 2019 and they look the side to push the Premiers most.
Key Player: Dino Fajkovic
One of their many impressive signings, Dino Fajkovic won the NPL Grand Final with Magic last season and brings a lot of quality to the team. Again this isn't one of those players who's inclusion is make or break for the squad but he has potential to be the best player in the league.
1st Place: Cooks Hill United
It's very hard to see the back-to-back Premiers being denied that top spot again in 2019. Cooks Hill have kept the large majority of their team together and added some very handy depth in the 23's. Their depth is simply second to none and when you have the players they do, there's a reason why you have a massive target on your back.
Key Player: Marty Raines
Cooks Hill could have five starters injured and still probably put out a quality lineup but if there's one player who may really shock a few this year, it's Marty Raines. The newcomer looks a very handy addition and if he performs to his best he'll be hard to stop.
-Cooks Hill United-
The Cookers as mentioned above have added some real quality to their 23's outfit. The likes of Jonah Kinnavong and Tyler Warren come to mind as players who bring added depth to the club and as a result they'll be extremely strong in the reserve grade. If Emerson Augey can find his scoring boots look out.
Haven't seen them play yet in 2019 but Scott Winslade runs a very tight ship and is a coach who strives for the top every single year so safe to expect another strong season for the Redbacks in this grade. Jack Stoneman is known for his comedic styles but he's a weapon when he's firing goals in for fun.
As mentioned, New Lambton have added some quality depth and that will flow off to the 23's. Guys like Hayden Pearce and Asama Radford may find themselves having to battle in the reserves to get time for 1st Grade. It's ridiculous how much depth the Eagles have in 2019.
On paper this looks a very handy team and one that can do real damage in the 23's competition this season. Kyle Clarke was the on field leader on the weekend and could really work well in that role if he wants it whilst players like Josh Knight and Mitch Kramer are proven quality at the Bluebells.
Very hard competition to talk too much about at this stage as things always change in 23's and ultimately it will likely be another very tight competition in which the finals are easy to get into than say 1st Grade for instance. That in turn means more games that mean something so not a bad thing. Consistency will go a very long way as Thornton proved last year.
These guys look like the immediate pick to finish top of the table in the 19's. They've kept a lot of quality from their Grand Final-winning side whilst also adding some new talent from 17's like Sam Whyburn and Izak Straker as well as newcomers like Bailey Cooper and Jed Conway. Plus they've got Thommo coaching them, can't go wrong!
On paper this looks to be a very strong lineup compared to last year. Two proven handy newcomers in Marcus Morris and Jack Clare, two potential dynamos in Kurt Suleiman and Maurice Mukunzi and a goalkeeper in Jasper Burley who has no doubt grown in confidence and potential after time in the NPL. These guys look the real deal in 2019.
-Cooks Hill United-
Going out on a limb here as there's so many new players but after watching Cooks Hill a few times this pre-season it's hard not to buy into what Jeff Evans and Matt Helinski are trying to do with this squad. They're young, they're fit and they're really looking to take the competition by storm.
Can't really tell you which teams looks the best behind those so far. It's a very open competition with so many new players across the clubs. Southy are looking improved, Cessnock have quoted their team as decent, Toronto haven't looked too bad during pre-season and even clubs like Kahibah and Wallsend have handy players. A very exciting competition.