27/02/2024

Adelaide City celebrate winning the 2022 NPL SA Championship (Image: Adam Butler/80Kms)

On the eve of the 2023 NPL SA season, The Inner Sanctum takes a brief look at each club and how they’re placed heading into the upcoming season.

Can the Champions fight off complacency to mirror Campbelltown’s treble-winning feat?

2022 was the year of Adelaide City in South Australia. Paul Pezos’ side completed a spectacular South Australian treble, only losing once in the process and remaining unblemished in both the NPL Finals Series and the Federation Cup.

The Black and White also showed what they are capable of when they took Adelaide United all the way to a penalty shootout in the Australia Cup.

Off the back of being South Australia’s best NPL side in the last two seasons, City now faces the challenge of fronting up for another year where everyone’s attention and best efforts will be dedicated to knocking them off their perch.

Human nature suggests that City will at some stage begin to take their foot off the gas, but master motivator Paul Pezos and a fresh voice in incoming assistant coach Barney Smith will not allow that to become a persistent problem.

The champions have refreshed their star-studded side with the additions of Andrew Marveggio, Nicholas Francese, and Gus Williams who is replacing Ayoum Majok after his move to Brisbane.

The retention of such a high-quality side, along with some purposeful additions means the champions will be receiving the benefit of the doubt by beginning season 2023 as the favourites to win their third Championship in a row.

Will Campbelltown City compete with the champions or with the pack?

After winning three championships on the bounce, Campbelltown City was rocked back to reality in 2021 after crashing out in the first round of the Finals Series. Season 2022 saw the Red Devils build back up to their lofty standards and despite starting slow, Michael Mattriciani’s side eventually shaped up as one of the most consistent teams in the competition.

Characterised by their ability to produce late magic, Campbelltown finished second on the table but were unable to vanquish Adelaide City or the Adelaide Comets in what ended up being a disappointing Finals Series.

After seeing their winning mentality return in 2022, the Red Devils will have silverware aspirations entering 2023.

Despite losing Lui Ditroia, Shaun Harvey, and Trey Williams, the Red Devils have added Antoni Trimboli and potentially Lui Lawrie-Lattanzio to their squad, both signings promise goals in Newton.

In their second year under Michael Mattriciani, Campbelltown should be able to stand up as Adelaide City’s main challenger, with many of its experienced players hellbent on denying their rivals the threepeat honour they earned in 2020.

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Can the rejuvenated Comets break the streak of bad luck?

Four Grand Finals in four years resulting in four heartbreaks meant that something had to give at Ellis Park. After years of coaching the most consistent home and away side in the NPL SA, Barney Smith has not continued as the Comets coach, with Adelaide City assistant George Tsonis replacing him at the helm of a highly talented squad that cannot seem to find the cutting-edge when the big day comes around.

The Comets return to action with the aim of displacing Adelaide City at the top of the mountain, but after another dose of disappointment, it remains to be seen how the team responds.

If one team is adept at overcoming heartbreak though it is the Comets, having Tsonis in charge may give the side a fresh voice and an insider’s perspective on how to get over the champions.

The Comets have not rested on the back of their disappointment, along with a new coach, they have added a plethora of exciting young talent signing Nathan Dimou, Binyam Kebede, Athan Karkafiris, Arbi Mollas, Filimon Asefa, Ashton Rinaldo, and Jack Yull to replace some of their outgoing experienced players.

Despite it looking like a rebuild on paper, the Comets will be exciting to watch and will be challenging for a spot in the top four, with the ever-present goal of claiming that elusive Championship.

Will Metro’s shakeup see it discover consistency?

After bowing out in a penalty shootout against eventual Grand Finalists Adelaide Comets, the MetroStars parted ways with long-standing head coach Rob Saraceno and appointed Danny Graystone after the latter’s spell at Melbourne Victory. Just like its northeastern counterparts, Campbelltown, Metro aspires not to just make finals, but to compete for the top prize.

In 2022, Metro proved it possessed plenty of quality, being the only side in the competition to claim a win against Adelaide City, but it let itself down on multiple occasions where instead of getting the job done as expected, it ended up dropping valuable points that the top three did not.

Imports Ren Nagamtsu and Cam Woodfin proved valuable additions and Danny Graystone would be encouraged after retaining them and veteran Fabian Barbiero, despite losing the experience of Tim Henderson, Justin Davis, Luke Ostbye, and Paul Blefari.

Hiring Graystone as one of the few full-time NPL coaches was a statement of intent, but so were the additions of Noah McNamara, Michal Cittadini, Austin Ayoubi, Christian D’Angelo, Ryan Veitch, Scott Nagel, and James Temelkovski which leave Metro in a much stronger position than in 2022.

If this side can gel it will be in the mix for silverware and an extremely difficult matchup for any opponent.

Which Young Reds side will we see more often?

Volatility is always going to be the name of the game in a side where a player in their early 20s is classed as experienced. The fact that in 2022 Adelaide United’s youth side scored a league-leading 55 goals, but also managed to concede the same amount of goals sums it up.

The Young Reds returned to the Finals Series but experienced a range of emotions throughout the year with some impressive victories combined with some shocking performances.

Success will depend on how the Reds utilise their young players in the A-League, with Johny Yull, Ethan Alagich, Luka Jovanovic, Panashe Madanha, Musa Toure, and Asad Kasumovic all involved at some stage with the senior team this season. If the Young Reds can keep their players on the pitch while unearthing more gems, a return to finals football shapes up as a real possibility.

West Adelaide winger Nathan Amanatidis has joined Airton Andrioli’s side. While scoring goals will not be the issue, defending consistently as a team will decide how the Young Reds’ season plays out.

This team’s best football can compete with the league’s elite, but its worst can see it fighting to retain its NPL status.

Can Croydon attack as well as it can defend?

Despite not having a permanent home to play and train, Croydon FC managed to earn a spot in the 2022 Finals Series. Despite their valiant defensive effort, only conceding 27 goals, Travis Dodd’s side could not score enough to do serious damage, recording a modest 28 goals.

The home ground conundrum will finally be resolved in 2023, with Croydon finally regaining a base, but the attacking problem remains. Dodd has brought in Tom Visser and Vianne Kurikwimana who will contribute offensively, but the question remains if it will be enough to regularly concern opposing sides.

Croydon has lost quality on both sides of the ground, with Antoni Trimboli and Jared Clark exiting the club. Dodd will be hoping the home-ground advantage, his signings, along with the additions of Rob Saraceno, and Nick Bouzalas to his coaching staff will provide enough ammunition to return to finals football.

How high can Beograd fly?

An impressive first season back in the NPL fell disappointingly short for FK Beograd after it saw their backline dismantled on the back of Cooper Nunn and Brian Kaltak moving for opportunities in the USA and the A-League respectively.

After a busy off-season, Beograd is aiming to not only return to the Finals Series but to make an impact when it gets there.

After Damian Mori stepped down from the top job, his assistant Josh Smith resumed the role of head coach. The new boss has overhauled his squad with the impressive additions of Jared Clark, Peter Akot, Cohan Morris, Mohammad Mohtashami, Donny Pollock, Adam Leombruno, Yared Abetew, Damian Ljujic to highlight Beograd’s ambition.

Josh Mori’s season 2022 Golden Boot heroics took the competition by storm. If the forward can maintain that level of performance and this new-look Beograd outfit matches it, it will no longer be a question of if this team can breach the top six, but instead which side they will be threatening to knock out.

Can the Lions make their home ground count?

Sturt took the competition by storm in 2021. Having recently been promoted to the NPL, the Lions did not just make the top six, but they nearly reached the Grand Final; 2022 was not as kind.

Despite moving into Karinya Reserve halfway through 2022 and having a stack of home games to make up for its run of away fixtures, Sturt could not consistently pick up enough points at home to challenge for a position in the top six. Learning how to take advantage of their stunning new facility will go a long way if the Lions are to compete for a return to finals this season.

Markus Orchard joins the club as defensive cover and after spending 2022 with Adelaide United, Nick Samaras returns to his boyhood club as a much-needed attacking outlet.

Coming off the back of a disappointing 2022, Sturt should be motivated to redeem itself, and in an extremely competitive league, it will be interesting to see where Lino Fusco’s side will find itself.

Who will step up to help the Rideouts?

After getting promoted with Sturt, South Adelaide has followed a similar trajectory, highly impressive in its first season before failing to match expectations in its second year in the NPL.

2022 was a turbulent year for the Panthers which saw them lose their coach while also suffering an eight-goal defeat at the hands of Adelaide United’s youth team.

Jonathon and Alex Rideout were prolific as usual, but they lacked consistent support around the pitch which hurt South’s season. The exits of Donny Pollock and Liam Wooding will only add to that pain, while veteran Ryan Veitch will be ably replaced by Lewis Moss in goals.

The Panthers have added Thomas King, Connor Higgins, and Philip Cash to their charges, but coach Anthony Rideout will have his hands full putting out a side to compete each week.

If the players he entrusts cannot perform to an adequate level, the brilliance of the Rideout brothers in the final third may prove to be too little to keep South Adelaide up.

Will Calderbank bring back success to Olympic?

After a couple of disappointing seasons, Adelaide Olympic hired former South Adelaide coach Andrew Calderbank to take the club forward. In his previous role at the Panthers, he overperformed expectations while also ensuring his side played an exciting brand of football; Olympic fans will be hoping for similar results.

Adelaide Olympic’s fighting spirit was evident in 2022, often wrestling back deficits to claim points, but their tendency to fall behind placed them in a relegation scrap. The additions of a central defensive duo with top-level experience in Michael Jakobsen and Kristi Vangjeli will ensure Olympic is hard to breach in 2023.

Calderbank has also poached Liam Wooding from South Adelaide to add quality to a side that lost Michael Cittadini and Damian Ljujic. Olympic’s defensive output will undoubtedly improve, if that can be matched in the final third, Calderbank’s side will be right in the fight for a return to finals football.

Can Modbury be 2023’s surprise package?

Modbury’s return to the NPL almost seemed like a formality at times. Clearly the best team in State League One for the majority of the 2022 season, it felt like the quality of the Jets’ side was so deep that it was often fighting battles below its weight class in the lower division.

Maurice Natale’s side has not rested on its laurels, adding more NPL experience around the field in Joseph Macheda, Tim Henderson, and Logan Marley-McFall, while Ryan Neild joined from Welsh club Colwyn Bay FC to boost the goalkeeping stocks. Those additions alongside the McCabe twins and Cooper Wegener promise to be an exciting side to watch.

Unlike in 2020, the Jets should not have an issue remaining in the NPL, but their aims will be much higher. After the Lions and the Panthers managed to play finals football the season after they got promoted in 2021, Modbury will have similar ambitions to push for a top-six finish.

Has Hellas done enough to stay up?

After a disappointing 2021 nearly saw it relegated to State League Two, West Adelaide’s 2022 campaign saw a rebirth of the club on the pitch and promotion back to the NPL. Jim Tsekinis was able to breathe life into the club, but after a successful first year in charge, he now faces a battle to consolidate that success.

After winning the State League One Championship, West Adelaide lost captain Ricardo Da Silva, young star Nathan Amanatidis, along with key defensive duo Evan Kostopoulos and Jack Yull. Key exits like these would hurt any club, let alone one that is trying to find its feet at the top level again.

West Adelaide has signed Cooper O’Donnell, who joins his brother Jackson at the club, along with Campelltown’s Trey Williams, and while both will be handy players for Hellas, they will need a lot of help.

Tsekinis will back his charges to take the game to all of its opponents, but it remains to be seen if this side can pick up enough points to retain its spot in the NPL.

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