Thursday, 7 March 2019

PREVIEW: New-FM Round 1 2019





Under 19's:
Cooks Hill United v Thornton Redbacks
Kickoff: 11:00am

After a lengthy off-season, at last it's time for the Season Opener. Newysports is back at the AthField to celebrate our fourth anniversary at the place it all began. Onto the actual game and it will be a chance to see two new-look outfits do battle. Cooks Hill have grown into a very decent side over their trial games and look to be a legit contender in 2019.

There's a load of new faces coming up from the successful 17's side as well as who are new to or rejoining the club in the case of David Ball-McKinnon. Taj Abrahams is one of those newcomers and is their defensive rock whilst left-winger Louis Rothfield has proven to be an attacking threat; his goal saw off Kahibah on the weekend. They've worked very hard on fitness and look primed to start the year well.

Thornton have flown under the Newysports radar but unlike some teams actually names their team before Christmas. Likely there may have been a change or two but if it stays the same there are a lot of new faces to the Redbacks' 19's. Pressure will be on players like Edan Ruddy and Will Miles-Schofield to use their experience.

Their pre-season results haven't really been well publicised but they lost in a high-scoring affair against strong Central Coast side Killarney Vale. Not really expecting them to be in top four contention and indeed it is a tough opposition in Round 1 but they've got plenty of time to prove the doubters wrong. 

Prediction: If Cooks Hill can find their stride in attack then they'll win this one. Defensively they look well set with Taj Abrahams leading them well and goalkeeper Kyle Van Braam looking reliable. Can sense a clean sheet on the cards but unsure on how many goals CHU might get.

My Tip: Cooks Hill United 4-0 Thornton Redbacks

The Inside Word: Louis Rothfield to score the first goal of the new season.

Tom Negline is one of just two players left from last year's 19's Semi Final lineup.

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Under 23's Match of the Round:
Cooks Hill United v Thornton Redbacks
Kickoff: 12:45pm

This has become quite the rivalry in the 23's competition over the past couple of seasons. Cooks Hill under Ben Nichols were the Premiers in 2017 and then the Champions in 2018 whilst Thornton were Premiers last season. Nichols has taken over at Toukley down the coast which is where Michael Kirby enters the equation. The coach with a smile brighter than most is a nice guy but is hoping to press his team for success.

There's been a fair changeover of players too with a few Grand Final starters moving on to greener pastures. Jordan Smallhorne, Max Markey plus substitute on the big day Damien Spohr moving on for 1st Grade chances elsewhere. Don't think it leaves a void as their replacements are pretty handy. Guys like Jonah Kinnavong and Jayden Keanu have looked impressive this pre-season.

Thornton were the Premiers last season and had a regular season campaign that was absolutely superb. Then came finals time and their last trip to the AthField which was disastrous to say the very least. Scott Winslade is a coach who likely values a 1st Place finish more than a Grand Final but deep inside he would have been fuming inside at all that hard work going up in flames at the penultimate hurdle.

Newysports of course hasn't seen Thornton play but a lot of faces will be returning and some intrigue for 23's this year will see youngsters like Bailey Anderson, Matt Gardiner and Ben Fuenzalida all make the step up from the Under 19's. The gaffer was softly spoken during his pre-season interview but will be demanding a strong start from his side against an old foe.

Prediction: This game last year at the AthField was very tense for a 23's match-up and it's a rivalry that has grown with both teams sharing success in the last two years. Seen a lot of Cooks Hill this pre-season but none of Thornton so a bit hard to judge. Think the Cookers might edge it with their attack.

My Tip: Cooks Hill United 2-1 Thornton Redbacks

Ben Fuenzalida is one of the 19's players that have been promoted up to 23's this season.

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1st Grade Co-Match of the Round:
Cooks Hill United v Thornton Redbacks
Kickoff: 2:30pm

Newysports has started the year at the AthField four years out of five and just like last year it's a huge clash to set things in motion for 2019. Cooks Hill v Thornton Redbacks sets the two Semi Final losers against each other and considering they split the points in 2018, it's no doubt on paper a very interesting match-up and a very serious test of both teams at such an early point.

Cooks Hill have looked very impressive in pre-season, completing freezing Toronto-Awaba out of the second half a couple of weeks ago and despite being off their game at times on Sunday they still put five past Kahibah. A largely unchanged squad from their double-Premiership-winning lineup and a signing by the name of Marty Raines who could set the league on fire with his skill and agility.

Gary Wand runs a very tight ship and has made sure Thornton Redbacks have spent a lot of time this pre-season flying under the radar. No-one has been talking about them at least compared to the Cooks Hill's, Southy's, Belswans' and Westy's of the world. These guys are a serious football side and proved it last season by finishing in the top two.

Their newcomers include Shane Farmer, Jacob Golding, Kyle Williams and Lachlan Rowen and will add depth to an already strong 1st/23's outfit. The gaffer Wand and his 23's coach Scott Winslade are in close and constant communication and discussion and this club across 1st and 23's looks to be a serious contender again in 2019. It's an extremely tough season opener though.

Prediction: Truth be told, Newysports has not seen Thornton play in 2019. They come into Round 1 as a mystery and that adds even more intrigue to this season opener. Cooks Hill have six home games in a row to start the year and without a doubt Graham Law will be aiming for 18 points from those games. Cookers to win a highly entertaining opener.

My Tip: Cooks Hill United 4-2 Thornton Redbacks

The Inside Word: Marty Raines to score on debut.

Cooks Hill have a similar squad to 2018 although Marty Raines is a very exciting addition.

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Under 19's:
Cessnock City v New Lambton
Kickoff: 11:00am

Like you'll see throughout the previews, there's a handful of teams that have got through pre-season completely under the Newysports radar. Cessnock 19's is one of those teams and certainly they are a squad that's seemingly heading into 2019 completely refreshed with new coach Brad York taking the reigns of a team that finished rather lowly last year.

With the squad not named, it's hard to highlight individual players but from hearsay at the club, there's some new players that are exciting additions to the Hornets as well as some rumoured NPL experience. This game will at the very least answer the questions of how the team line up and given where they finished last year, the only way is hopefully up. It's been four seasons without finals football for Cessnock in the 19's.

New Lambton were doing well at avoiding any Newysports attention through pre-season but alas the lineup was finally revealed with their pre-season encounter against the Newcastle Suns. They've cut a lot of names from last year but have replaced them with names that are as good, if not better.

It starts at the back with the return of goalkeeper Jasper Burley to the club after a stint with Valentine in the NPL. Relocated ex-Singleton duo Marcus Morris and Jack Clare are new after moving into the city for studies. There's some promoted names from the highly successful 17's team and a brand new coach in the form of Tom Davies, a young coach and keen to really get this side playing some good football. 

Prediction: The Hornets keeping their lineup under wraps will go against them in this preview. Chances are they will be better in 2019 but this Eagles side look a very impressive outfit at this stage of the year. New Lambton to win their first game of the campaign and start the year in ideal fashion.

My Tip: Cessnock City 0-2 New Lambton

The Inside Word: Look for New Lambton to exploit the flanks and use their pace.

Defender Aidan Galvin is the new captain of New Lambton 19's with Alex McConnell as his vice-captain.

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Under 23's:
Cessnock City v New Lambton
Kickoff: 12:45pm

Cessnock 23's had a big question mark on them heading into last season and over the course of the year they proved doubters wrong with a stirring run that took them all the way to a second-placed finish and a spot in the Semi Finals where they were ultimately beaten over two legs by eventual Champions Cooks Hill United. It was a strong year for the Hornets and a bright spot for the club given recent seasons.

No team has officially been announced but the depth at the Hornets is similar to last year. Reliable goalscorers from last year like Brodie Williams, Ben Priest and Kyle Gillis all played in the Heritage Cup but time will tell if they toil their time more in 23's or the top grade. They beat Kahibah in a recent trial game but not a lot is known about the Hornets so Saturday may begin the process of answering those questions.

Turning attention to New Lambton, the Eagles were also a very handy unit in this grade last season as they made the finals in 4th place and sent the Premiers Thornton Redbacks packing with a blitzing second leg victory. Unfortunately their superb run would end with a Grand Final loss but it was a year that Paul McGuinness and his side really enjoyed.

The good news and perhaps worrying news for other clubs is that the Eagles keep the majority of their 2018 squad plus potentially some new talent as the club's boosted their depth with quality signings. Players like Luke Homer and Jim Orr will cause many headaches for defences and they have championship-winners from the 2017 19's side like Harry Callen and Jack Fisher just to name some players. A quality lineup.

Prediction: This is one of the more difficult games to call as based on last year and the fact that a lot of faces are returning, it's on paper an even affair between two sides who'll want to do big things in 2019. Skip O'Hearn's farewell tour kicks off at Turner Park and hence it's hard to see Cessnock losing it. We'll go an entertaining draw.

My Tip: Cessnock City 2-2 New Lambton

Ben Priest was a real outlet for the Cessnock 23's last season, scoring 11 goals.

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1st Grade:
Cessnock City v New Lambton
Kickoff: 2:30pm

With some of the other huge clashes this round, this game definitely isn't getting the same sort of attention but it is still on paper an interesting encounter. Cessnock's last few years have been spoken about at length, players coming and going, coaches coming and going and now of course they embark on another new era with a new coach and new committee off the field.

New coach Arthur Hodgetts would be one of the first to admit that they're still a work in progress and with injuries cursing them already they're playing catch-up a little bit in that department. Klaudon Ahmataj's omission puts added pressure onto Lachlan Hodgetts. Of course he is the coach's son which always adds pressure but he's no doubt set the bar high after stepping down from NPL and will want to reach those lofty targets. (I'll show myself out...).

New Lambton are the big club that could and so far hasn't. Their last two seasons have been fairly underwhelming given the club's high ambition and this year Jim Foley has had a full pre-season with the squad and has them ready to continue building on a foundation he helped set through the back end of 2018. It's all about potential and there's plenty of it.

The Eagles have gone and signed a lot of new faces, too many to mention in a paragraph but their depth is probably the key area of improvement. Have mentioned a few times the fact they have three very capable goalkeepers for two spots and of course let's not forget they have a serious Golden Boot contender in Riley Taylor. 2019 could be the year this particular club start to take flight in 1st Grade New-FM football.

Prediction: The Eagles of course are in a similar boat to Cessnock with some new faces and new things to work on but have a feeling they're a little further ahead of the eight ball so to speak. Arthur Hodgetts in his first game as Head Coach is against Jim Foley, the most experienced and accomplished coach in the competition. It's a tough ask first up for the Hornets.

My Tip: Cessnock City 0-3 New Lambton

The Inside Word: Riley Taylor to get off to the perfect goalscoring start with two goals.

Another year, another new coach and another fresh start for the Hornets.

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Under 19's Match of the Round:
West Wallsend v Belmont-Swansea
Kickoff: 11:00am

These sides met on the final day of the regular season last year and Belswans kept their slim finals hopes alive with a big win, although their hopes were dashed quickly in a later kickoff. West Wallsend are the defending Champions of course and won a Grand Final that for them was simply must win given the traumatic events that took away a teammate and close friend of many players far too soon. Westy will wear Humbo #9 on all their jerseys this season as tribute to Jaryd Hayter.

A few of the 19's from last year have "aged up" to 23's and thus new blood was needed. Brodie Jupp, Izak Straker, Caden Hall, Brock Redman and Sam Whyburn all step up from the Grand Final-winning 17's side and newcomers like Bailey Cooper and Jed Conway add some NPL experience to what is already an impressive outfit.

Belmont-Swansea have endured mass change over the off-season starting with new coach Will McMaster taking the reigns from Mick Buckley and the former U17's coach is keen to take some familiar players to new levels in 2019. Casey Turner is the experienced head in the backline, new goalkeeper Cal Nicol has impressed and there's others who played last year either in 17's or 19's.

One thing Belswans lacked last year was a consistent attacking output and from their trial game against Beresfield United it appears to be a key area once again. They weren't too impressive in the final third and will need to improve there if they are to have any success. If they can provide the right service for their attackers they'll be okay.

Prediction: The visitors are still a work in progress and will hopefully improve as the year goes on but this looks like a routine West Wallsend win in front of their home fans. The Bluebells did look shaky in defence last weekend at Barnsley but have firepower to offset any concerns at the back. Granted they're playing a much fitter and younger side this week so it won't be a walk in the park.

My Tip: West Wallsend 3-1 Belmont-Swansea

The Inside Word: Look for Westy to strike early.

The skipper for Westy 19's this season is Lachlan Coombes. A very handy midfielder.

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Under 23's:
West Wallsend v Belmont-Swansea
Kickoff: 12:45pm

West Wallsend 23's have been a decent outfit over the last couple of years with a Grand Final appearance and a fairly decent effort in the finals race last year, falling just five points short. If they can remain consistent they'll be right in the hunt again and with their squad looking pretty good on paper it's building to be a positive year for the Bluebells.

The addition of players like Cal Melville and Zac Annesley add some considerable defensive quality whilst Josh Knight has been a consistent goalscorer for multiple seasons now at the club. Zac Park in goals is a reliable shotstopper and Kyle Clarke is a proven leader on the pitch so it's a really potent mix of quality and some experience as well. Definitely a contender on paper.

Belswans too have some decent players on paper but they've got to turn it into results. Finishing 12 points outside of a finals series where you only needed to win half your games to make it in isn't ideal and they'll want to improve on that. Recruiting quality ex-Swansea head coach Benny Haddow is a move designed to push these players to their potential.

Charlie Herivel being named captain over more experienced campaigners like Josh Anstess was an interesting move but shows that the youth coming through is very strong. Arch Johnson is another who has come through the system in a similar ilk to Lachlan McMaster, Will Dunn, David Swain and Ned Gain. Loyalty is well-rewarded at Belswans.

Prediction: Thinking this one might go the way of the home side as they have a slightly better lineup on paper. It's going to be a real test first-up for Belswans and they'll need to be up for a good tussle because no doubt it'll be a fired-up Westy side for Round 1.

My Tip: West Wallsend 2-0 Belmont-Swansea

The Inside Word: Maybe more goals if players like Josh Knight and Matt Turner can hit the target.

Charlie Herivel may be the youngest player named captain in the 23's competition.

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1st Grade Co-Match of the Round:
West Wallsend v Belmont-Swansea
Kickoff: 2:30pm

We'll never forget the last meeting of these two clubs as Belswans claimed their first Championship in 32 long years after two seasons of Grand Final heartbreak. It was the perfect end to Josh Rufo's time at the club and a farewell too to the outgoing Club Captain and all-round nice guy (not always on the park!) Joel Shearer. This was a few years of hard work paying off in a big way.

Westy though they lost achieved something truly great in 2018 as they finally returned to a stage they might not have thought was possible anymore, especially during their dark times about five or six years ago. To see hundreds of people decked out in blue and white on the hill at Edgy signaled what this sleeping giant has become, a force in the competition across all grades. Despite the loss it was recognition of hours and hours of dedication.

Now we do it all again. West Wallsend said goodbye to their long-term coach Gary Rowe and now have Brendan Slade in charge. Blake Redman steps into goal, Dylan Hogg and Ethan Coulter add to their list of exciting young stars and Ash Ilffield when he returns from injury will be an experienced head in the engine room. This team is just as good if not better than last year and that's a scary prospect.

For Belswans it's a similar situation, only a few new names compared to last year's Championship-winning team. Liam Creighton and Quinn Macneill have looked decent whilst Sam Parker and Joel Nicholson add extra depth and will do all they can to cement a spot. Their defence most importantly is as solid as it was last year. A very, very strong side on paper.

Prediction: The Champions have been hit a little by the injury bug and have of course been slow-starters each year. Their attack is the biggest question mark with no Josh Sutton this year. Clayton Poole is very experienced but some pressure on some of the younger guys. Not sure they're ready yet to knock Westy off at Johnston Park. Bluebells to win it.

My Tip: West Wallsend 2-0 Belmont-Swansea

Belswans will never forget the last time they met West Wallsend. 32 years in the making!

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Under 19's:
Toronto-Awaba v Singleton Strikers
Kickoff: 11:15am

This is where it gets interesting as these clubs met just a couple of weeks ago in trial games. Of course now it's for points and things will be different but in the 19's it was a 1-1 draw if memory serves correctly. Toronto-Awaba were Semi Finalists last season, putting a few poor years of 19's results behind them thanks to a fresh squad coming up from what was the 2017 U17's team.

This team didn't look too bad in the two trial games Newysports covered. Josh Masters returning in goals is a big plus, the likes of Jon Morley and Flynn Balin are solid players in the defensive areas and their attack could possibly include the likes of Andrew Clempson and Stags' diehard Luke Gibbons. Players who have experienced success in yellow and blue.

Singleton 19's played against Mayfield at Lochinvar but believe they had several players out that day so ultimately not too sure what to expect heading into Round 1. This time last year they looked a decent prospect on paper but that didn't really eventuate. An 8th place loss with 12 losses from 20 starts wasn't the greatest result and can be improved on.

Oran Marzol scored a decent goal in said trial game and was one of the players that are believed to be 19's starters. Nick Watson returns from last years side as well. Can't give much more than that. Round 1 will answer at the very least who is in the squad and obviously results will be observed from then on.

Prediction: The Singleton bunch that played 19's at Lochinvar looked a little bit below preferred match fitness so feeling as though Toronto-Awaba might be stronger in that regard. The Stags at home will want to prove their worth and kick off what could be a memorable season opening day in a new era at the club.

My Tip: Toronto-Awaba 3-0 Singleton Strikers

The Inside Word: Singleton to tire as the game goes on and Toronto to pounce.

Nick Watson is one of the confirmed names for Singleton 19's so far.

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Under 23's:
Toronto-Awaba v Singleton Strikers
Kickoff: 1:00pm

These two teams combined for a horrifying 159 goals against in 40 matches last season. Toronto-Awaba have three-straight wooden spoons and a 10th place finish in 2015 in this particular grade. It screams a severe lack of depth and at times the numbers haven't been there to field a team. They forfeited twice in a spell of 17 straight losses after starting the year with two wins from three starts!

All those terrible numbers paint a picture and surely the only way is up in 2019. There's a much improved depth at the club with Head Coach Darrel McAllister bringing in a lot of new names. Players like Jacob Stivano and Jack Benson are candidates to be the sort of players who have to perform in 23's to get game time. They are capable and competition for spots is much stronger this year. As long as there's not another mass exodus they'll improve greatly.

Singleton were fairly terrible in the 23's last year but did finish the season with a 1-1 draw with eventual Semi Finalists Cessnock City. For the large majority 2018 was a very forgettable year and again a lack of quality depth was the reason why. Unlike Toronto who lacked numbers, Singleton could fill the team but the quality and performances just weren't there.

Head Coach David Willoughby is never one to give too much away but he gave and quote and said he believes the 23's will be better at the club this season. Considering he knows the club inside out that is an interesting observation heading into Round 1. Players like Josh Shade, Jack Kelly and goalkeeper Shifaan Hussain are among those who can be expected to lace up the boots for Singo 23's.

Prediction: Like a lot of these opening round previews, there's not a huge amount of substance in this prediction because so much is still not known. The Stags did win 3-0 in pre-season so being the home team might have to sway that way but wouldn't be surprised either way the result goes. Hoping for a much better 2019 on a whole for both these teams.

My Tip: Toronto-Awaba 3-1 Singleton Strikers

Toronto have added a lot of new faces and former NL Eagle Jacob Stevens is one of them.

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1st Grade:
Toronto-Awaba v Singleton Strikers
Kickoff: 2:45pm

Toronto have been falling in a downwards direction for a few years winning only five games each year through 2014, 15, 16 and 17 before last season crashing to a new low with just two wins, sixteen losses and a horrifying 95 goals against, 40 more than the next worst defensive display. By the end of the season a barebones shell of a squad would fall to a humiliating 13-0 defeat to the Premiers Cooks Hill.

August 11th 2018 was the Stags' darkest on-field moment in at least 20 years and was officially rock bottom. Darrel McAllister's been busy bringing in as many new faces as he could muster to replace those that have moved on. It's not a team of world beaters but it's a squad that looks well improved and much more depth to it. Nathan McAllister is their main recruit but there's a lot of new faces, more than any other club.

Singleton are almost a complete opposite as they've got largely an unchanged squad with recent headline signing Jake Barner arguably the only notable addition to a team that achieved one of their better seasons in recent memory in 2018. Still they fell short of where they were aiming to be and still the club's shocking finals record goes on. No Singleton team in the New-FM competition in any grade have played finals since 2004 if stats are correct.

What was different about last year is that they started well compared to prior seasons where they typically did better in the back end. If they can combine the two then they'll be a threat once again. The typical names to watch are the likes of Joe Civello and Hayden Nicol whilst the ever-present Nathan Hall can be a livewire in case those two need some extra help. Obviously Barner will add his two cents worth too going forward.

Prediction: Toronto will be an improved outfit this year there's no doubt about that, as long as there's no mass exodus again. It's a work in progress though whilst Singleton are as settled as ever and have shortened their pre-season format to try and hit their straps at the perfect time. Strikers to fire themselves into form early on.

My Tip: Toronto-Awaba 1-3 Singleton Strikers

Marquee signing Nathan McAllister and long-time striker Nick Roberts are a formidable duo for the Stags.

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Under 19's:
South Cardiff v Wallsend FC
Kickoff: 2:00pm

Newysports did have a chance to see Southy 19's play back in early December but that was now three months ago and on top of that it was a hot old day with no official review or photos taken. Therefore it's hard to go off that but they've done alright in their trial games and the feeling is that they'll be a much improved outfit on last year.

Given the Gunners finished dead last in 2018, there's no doubt the only way is up and the coach Aidan Painter has a lot of new faces on hand to try and make something of this season. Hard to remember that trial game but if memory serves correctly Ned Twelvetree impressed the most on that day. Watch this space is probably the best summary at this stage.

Southy were last in 2018 and right above them in 10th place were Wallsend FC. The Red Devils entered the competition in 2015 and in that time their 19's side have finished 8th on three consecutive occasions and then ultimately 10th. It's a grade that Wallsend have struggled to find success in and in 2019 they'll attempt to put a stop to those stats.

Coach Craig Tselembis is taking the reigns once again. There's been some tough times for old Craig in the last couple of years but he's a coach who constantly keeps believing. The Reds didn't look too great against rivals West Wallsend in a pre-season outing and lost to Kahibah recently but hopes are high going into another new year. 

Prediction: The Gunners probably head into this one as favourites given pre-season form. Both teams are a work in progress but feel like Southy are just a step ahead given the extra games and the opposition they have faced and shown decent quality against. Every game counts in the Gallagher Shield so they'll want to beat their rivals in purple on the day.

My Tip: South Cardiff 3-1 Wallsend FC

Angus Hall is fast becoming an experience veteran at Wallsend, this will be his fourth season.

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Under 23's:
South Cardiff v Wallsend FC
Kickoff: 3:30pm

2018 was an up and down year for Southy in the 23's. They weren't sitting in an ideal spot at all around the halfway mark of the season but finished well and pushed for finals before ultimately falling just short. Chris Moylan kept that team believing and it's probably one of the many reasons why he is now working as the 1st Grade coach.

As a result of Moylan's promotion, Steve Blunt steps up from 19's back into 23's where he steered Toronto-Awaba for a couple of seasons. Blunt has the unfortunate record of three consecutive wooden spoons but a coach is only as good as the players he has to work with. He has a decent team on paper and these Gunners will want to perform consistency and keep knocking on the door for potential 1st Grade minutes.

Wallsend 23's are one of a few teams Newysports didn't get to watch during the pre-season so it's a bit of a mystery how they're looking ahead of the campaign. To be frank Newysports can't even tell you who the coach of the team is! Defensive depth is stronger with guys like Michael Wright and Luke Conners joining therefore that might flow down to 23's.

On paper from their Heritage Cup lineup, the senior squad across the board are looking quiet decent and competition for spots will be key. We won't really know who's in what squad until Sunday but it's safe to say that if Wallsend 23's perform well then their former coach and now Head Coach Jesse Pryce will reward them. This is another one of those watch this space sort of teams.

Prediction: In all honesty this is an extremely tough one to call based on the small amount of knowledge for both sides. Wallsend may have an experience edge against what is a young Southy 23's side but that's tough to judge a result on. Much easier to go down the middle at this point of the year isn't it?

My Tip: South Cardiff 1-1 Wallsend FC

The Inside Word: Both teams left disappointed after chances wasted.

Steve Blunt will be hoping this year can be a positive one for the Southy 23's

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1st Grade:
South Cardiff v Wallsend FC
Kickoff: 5:30pm

Last but not least is this intriguing clash between two teams who's rivalry has grown in recent years. Southy v Wallsend is of course played for the Gallagher Shield in memory of the late Peter Gallagher. Wallsend have never lost the Shield since its inception so there's added incentive for the Gunners in 2019 to be able to bring it to Ulinga Oval for the very first time.

In addition to being a memorial game over the two legs, this game last year provided some very notable moments with the infamous Riley Taylor goal in the first game last season denying Wallsend a win before the Gunners were demolished 3-0 in the return game on a night where one word on a Newysports review set a lot of people off. We've all moved on since then!

Speaking of the actual teams, Southy have become a serious force over the pre-season with some big-name signings headlined by Dino Fajkovic. They've continued in more recent times with signings like Daniel Casciaroli and Hakan Canli. This is easily the best team Southy have assembled since being relegated and they are dead serious about challenging for top spot and the Championship.

Wallsend on the other hand don't have a reigning NPL title winner in their squad but do have a Golden Boot contender in Ty Goldsmith, quality other attack-minded players like Matt Williams and Wez Pryce and a refreshed defence with Luke Conners and Michael Wright in front of untested goalkeeper Zac Hamilton who is stepping into the cauldron of 1st Grade with a tough first match. 

Prediction: With a 5:30pm kickoff you should be getting to Ulinga if you like seeing passionate football. These teams will both want to start the year well and it's always a match that provides talking points. Despite the other big games this could steal the headlines for the week. As for the result, Southy to show what they're all about.

My Tip: South Cardiff 3-1 Wallsend FC

The Inside Word: Southy's fitness to reign supreme over a fatigued Wallsend side.

NPL Grand Final winner Dino Fajkovic is perhaps the most impressive off-season signing in the league this season.

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YOUTH GAME(s) OF THE WEEK: Very hard to come up with a game or games of the week given not a lot is known about the youth set-up this year. Toronto-Awaba as a whole are looking big improvers on last year and the usual suspects (West Wallsend, Cooks Hill & new Lambton) should be strong in all grades.

The South Cardiff v Wallsend matches will be taking place midweek on the 12/3 and 14/3 due to Ulinga Oval being booked out.

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