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  • Writer's pictureAntonis Pagonis

NPL SA 2023: The best and worst case scenario for each club heading into the new season

South Australia's National Premier League competition returns this week. With most clubs firmly positioned to compete for the finals, Front Page Football looks at how each team's season may play out.

Hosting two clubs, and the Grand Final, Service FM Stadium will once again take centre stage in the 2023 NPL SA season. (Adam Butler/80Kms)


Adelaide City


Best case scenario:


Quiet simply, the champions defend their crown and make it three championships in as many years. Paul Pezos' side only lost one game in South Australian competitions in 2022, sweeping all three trophies available.


To achieve his side's lofty goals, Pezos will once again utilise his squad to its full extent, rotating his charges to combat fatigue and complacency while also picking up results. This rotation will mean that by the time finals roll around, City will not only be one of the better-placed sides in the competition but will also be winning the battle of attrition an NPL season can often be. It gives them a solid chance to retain their multiple crowns.

Worst case scenario:


It is hard to see a side of Adelaide City's quality sliding out of finals contention. But after finishing in the top two the last two seasons, the Black and Whites have much higher standards than merely qualifying.


The worst-case scenario will see City still pick up points comfortably. But natural complacency from a side that has won it all may creep into their performances. Should City not be careful and slide out of the luxury of a top-two spot, an unfortunate 90 minutes in a competitive knockout match may see their reign of dominance abruptly end in the finals.


How we think it will play out:


While City's quality will not dissipate overnight, complacency is the most significant battle the champions will face in the regular season. They should rightfully start the season as favourites. But as Paul Pezos rotates his side to remain physically and mentally fresh, it will be no surprise if it faces slip-ups along the way.


City will be pushed for the top spot if a challenger finds some consistency. Come finals time, though, experience is pivotal, and the champions have that in spades. Expect Pezos' side to be hard to beat but mortal should their focus waver.


Campbelltown City


Best case scenario:


Ideally, the regular season plays out similarly for Campbelltown as it did in 2022. The Red Devils will prefer to handle their business earlier in games, though, while also securing the premiership. But an ideal season will see them again string an impressive undefeated streak together and finish in the top two.


Where Michael Matricciani's side can take the next step is the Finals Series, something which was Campbelltown's forte not too long ago. They will be expecting to make the Grand Final, and once they make it there, recent history suggests they don't stumble.

Worst case scenario:


Similarly to City, even if the season does not play out to Campbelltown's high standards, they should have too much talent to miss the finals. But that is where recent problems have begun. The worst-case scenario would see a similar end to season 2021 when the Red Devils did not make the top two and got knocked out in the first round of finals to the less-fancied South Adelaide.


After earning the double chance and having Adelaide City on the ropes in 2022, the Red Devils lost their two-leg matchup, with their rivals qualifying for the Grand Final. They then failed to beat Comets at home to fall short again; a similar situation would be disappointing for a club that has been a victim of its high standards the previous two seasons.


How we think it will play out:


A disappointing end to 2022 should spur the Red Devils on in the regular season. Expect the side to be a lot more confident in the second year of Matricciani's reign, who has proven more than up to a job with a lot of pressure.


The race for the double chance the top two spots provide will be hotly contested, and Campbelltown will be in the mix. Should they claim one, do not expect them to fluff their lines twice this time.


Adelaide Comets


Best case scenario:


After four consecutive Grand Final defeats, this one is quite simple. Comets are not just dreaming of returning to South Australian football's big dance; they aim to shake off the tag of the perennial bridesmaid.


With proactive recruiting meaning the squad has gotten younger, and a change in the coaching ranks, Comets will be hoping they can challenge for the premiership at the top. But their season will be judged in the finals. The goal will be that this young squad will maintain its consistency over the last four years. But once push comes to shove, the new faces, on the pitch and the bench, will shake the ghosts of the past.


Worst case scenario:


This team may be the only one who finds making the Grand Final and losing it more painful than not being there. Comets' moves this off-season have suggested a shakeup whilst maintaining a high-calibre squad, so expect them to be participating in the Finals Series.


While the worst-case scenario is an early exit, a fifth Grand Final loss in as many years would be more shattering for the players, fans, and administrators that know such heartbreak all too well.

How we think it will play out:


Comets should be one of the more fun teams to watch in 2023. The talent acquired suggests fireworks, and should the young players develop consistently and support and challenge the veterans, the sky is the limit.


At the pointy end of the season, Comets can match it with any team and should at least be winning a finals match or two. The big question remains about how this team responds when all the chips are on the table and expect that point to remain prominent as the season progresses.


North Eastern MetroStars


Best case scenario:


Similarly to Comets, the Metro Stars hope their on-field and coaching shakeups prove to be the difference in pursuing silverware. Danny Graystone's side should be making the finals. But like the sides mentioned above, the top two will be the goal, with a return to a Grand Final as the ultimate aspiration.


Qualifying for the Finals Series has not been a problem for Metro; the issue has been the inability to produce when they get there. Having not made an NPL Grand Final since 2014 and a Preliminary Final since 2019, Metro will be hoping both those streaks end similarly to season 2012 - with a championship.

Worst case scenario:


Not contending for a Grand Final spot will be disappointing for Metro, be it not finishing in the top two or reaching a Preliminary Final. The club has invested in a full-time coach. It has significantly added to a strong side, so the expectations are understandably high.


Like the teams above them, Metro holds itself to a high standard; elimination in the first two weeks of the Finals Series will be deemed a failure.


How we think it will play out:


Once again very similar to Comets. After an off-season that saw a shakeup at a club with high expectations, expect the Metro Stars to play to impress. Their strong play, hopefully, grouped with consistency this time around, will see Graystone's side contend for the top two.


Should they play to their potential, Metro should return to at least a Preliminary Final spot. It can reach and even win a long-overdue Grand Final from there. But getting to that stage will be anything but easy.


Adelaide United Youth


Best case scenario:


After a positive 2022 campaign, the Young Reds will be aiming to return to the Finals Series in 2023 and make their presence felt. The Reds' youth side may be talented, but the group must remain level-headed through their highs and lows to reach their potential.


They were outstanding in the final third last season, scoring 55 goals. But conceding the same amount meant they could not maximise their output. Airton Andrioli's side will have to tighten up defensively and become harder to outscore. If they improve in this area, they will capitalise on their talent and challenge at the season's pointy end.

Worst case scenario:


Even though the positives outweighed the negatives in 2022, it is hard to forget that Adelaide United's youth team flirted with relegation in the seasons previous to that. The Young Reds may have a high ceiling, but they also have a rock bottom that they would prefer to keep unexplored.


A team of young players can be volatile at times, and should the side go on a bad run of losses while conceding heavily, it could be tough to come back from the rut. The effects of the usual high turnover of players may also be felt in a period where stability would have otherwise benefited the team.


How we think it will play out:


This season should play out similarly to the previous one for the Young Reds. Expect impressive wins paired with shocking losses, with many goals scored and just as many conceded.


Dealing with multiple learning curves will decide their season, which should see them as a borderline team finishing a game or two inside or outside the top six. They will not be an easy matchup for their opponents if they end up in the Finals Series.


Croydon Football Club


Best case scenario:


After a couple of seasons on the road due to Polonia Reserve being claimed for the South Road expansion, Croydon enters its new home in 2023 with hopes it can compete for silverware. Travis Dodd has done well to return the side to finals football. He will be further aided in his bid to take the next step by experienced friend Robbie Saraceno joining him on the coaching bench this season.


After only scoring 28 goals in 2022 and at the same time only conceding 27, Croydon will have to find some firepower to take it to the next level while also remaining resolute defensively. The comfort of having a permanent home base to train and play in should be a huge bonus, as Croydon aims to return to the Finals Series and make an impact.

Worst case scenario:


Croydon will have a tough season if the inability to score continues and combines with a dropoff in its defensive solidity. Returning home may prove to be a difference maker. But Croydon will have to learn to take advantage of it and ensure they pick up points there regularly.


Dodd's side should have too much quality to be in any relegation trouble. But even missing out on the top six will be seen as a disappointing campaign internally.


How we think it will play out:


With a couple of positive attacking additions, Croydon should be able to find the back of the net more consistently in 2023. The question is if they will have enough to challenge the top sides.


Croydon should find themselves on the fringes of a finals appearance. But every result is crucial to whether they finish inside or outside the top six. Should Dodd's side appear in the Finals Series, it would not be a surprise if they give their opponents a tough match, which in the right circumstances, they can win.


FK Beograd


Best case scenario:


After falling heartbreakingly short of finals football in its return to the NPL, FK Beograd will aim for a top-six finish and results once that time of the season rolls around. Despite Damian Mori leaving the club, Beograd hopes for a seamless transition with understudy Josh Smith taking over.


With some impressive additions across the pitch, Beograd will be hoping that the new parts fit in early to give the side the consistency it needs to entrench itself in the top six. For a shot at silverware, Josh Mori's 2022 form will have to continue and be matched by some of his teammates.

Worst case scenario:


FK Beograd has put together too good of a squad to go down, but the moving parts in this team can make it prone to disappointment. After losing its starting centre-backs to career-altering moves late last season, Beograd fell apart and eventually missed the top six. The club will be hoping its squad depth prevents a similar situation.


If Beograd cannot settle on a starting XI because of transfers and injuries, the consistency required to pick up enough points may be hard to come by. Should that lead to another dogfight for the last finals spot, another disappointing end to a season could be crushing for this highly ambitious club.


How we think it will play out:


It would not be a surprise if Beograd did not have the most incredible start to the season. Despite the quality added to the squad, it will take some time for it to all click together.


They should be playing in the Finals Series and causing some damage when they get there. Should the sides above them enter their matches against Josh Smith's Beograd with complacency, they will surprise a fair few teams with a crack at silverware not unrealistic.


Sturt Lions


Best case scenario:


Crashing back down to Earth in 2022 after a fairytale 2021, Sturt's goal will be to return to the top six. The side is capable, almost making a Grand Final two seasons ago, and possessing players like Michael Marrone proves their quality.


To get back there, Sturt must show they have learned how to play at their home ground. Picking up points at home is crucial to any good side's success, and Sturt must start doing it.

Worst case scenario:


Should Sturt not be more diligent in improving their home form while continuing to struggle on the road, they may find themselves in a relegation scrap. This team does not belong there, but with the ladder likely tight, it would not be a surprise.


Should the Lions fail to pick up points early in the season, questions will start being asked about where this side will get its wins. They cannot afford to lose any players to injuries for a sustained period.


How we think it will play out:


We expect the Lions to compete more vigorously this season to compensate for a disappointing 2022. They should spend most of their season somewhere between the finals spots and the drop zone, with a fortnight of positive or negative results skewing their season in either direction.


Even if they find themselves in trouble, the Lions should have enough quality to steer themselves away; the question is whether they have enough to return to the Finals Series.


South Adelaide


Best case scenario:


Like Sturt, South Adelaide is a side that, after a triumphant return to the NPL, faced second-year blues, finishing closer to the relegation zone than the top six. Returning to the finals will be hard for the Panthers, who have lost some talented players. But it's not impossible.


South Adelaide will need Jonathon, and Alex Rideout fit and firing every week to return to finals action, with their goalscoring contributions as crucial as ever. Along with them, the Panthers will need to unearth some other regular contributors for a satisfying season.

Worst case scenario:


Relegation is entirely possible for South Adelaide. The Panthers ended their 2022 campaign in a highly disappointing fashion. Should that form carry over, they could be in trouble.


A poor start to the season can put coach Anthony Rideout under pressure early, needing new additions to pick up points. It could work if the Panthers converted some of their young talents to weekly contributors. But even that is going to take time.


How we think it will play out:


Jonathon and Alex Rideout will continue doing what they do best, scoring and creating goals. But as it stands, there needs to be more support for them. This situation could change as players get opportunities to contribute and impress.


We expect the Panthers to fight at the table's lower end, possibly against relegation. But we would also not be surprised if a couple of good weeks at some stage of the season propelled this side into extended confidence and good form.


Adelaide Olympic


Best case scenario:


Adelaide Olympic is an ambitious club aiming to put a couple of disappointing seasons behind them to return to finals action. Fully capable of solid performances, Olympic will be hoping that they do not have to fight back against deficits to earn points as often as they did in 2022. The additions of experienced defensive duo Michael Jakobsen and Kristi Vangjeli should ensure that's not the case.


Andrew Calderbank's job as the new coach of Olympic will be to ensure his side can tighten up defensively, as the 45 goals the side gave up in 2022 saw them remain in the division by only three points. Olympic can fight to return to finals, but a lot of work has to be done.

Worst case scenario:


After marginally surviving in 2022, relegation would be Olympic's biggest fear. The squad assembled should not be close to the drop zone, but over the last few years, it's been getting too close for comfort.


If this team does not buy into the new coach's message and the new signings do not gel, it may spell a bleak story for Olympic. They should be fighting battles higher up the ladder if they can play to their potential.


How we think it will play out:


Adelaide Olympic should have far too much quality to be relegated. Calderbank is a proficient coach who should iron out any of the side's glaring issues. Olympic will become extremely hard to play against should they regain control of games defensively.


If the stars align, Olympic can play finals. But there are a lot of issues to be fixed and questions to be answered. On the other side, we have seen what happens when things are not going smoothly at Angle Park.


Modbury Jets


Best case scenario:


The Jets looked like an NPL side for most of their 2022 State League One campaign, which included an impressive Australia Cup run. This form is what coach Maurice Natale hopes his side replicates in 2023 as an actual NPL side once again.


Even though survival is paramount for Modbury, their squad, plus a couple of handy additions, make it possible to compete for a finals spot straight after being promoted. It is not unprecedented, with Sturt and South Adelaide achieving the feat in 2021 and FK Beograd going close in 2022. But it will take some work.

Worst case scenario:


Repeating the last time it got promoted would be the nightmare scenario for Modbury. After a strong start in 2020, the competition paused due to COVID-19. Once it returned, the Jets looked like a shell of the team from the beginning of the season, eventually relegated by eight points.


Despite this Modbury side being promoted with a lot of confidence and quality and making some moves in the off-season, the 2020 campaign looms as an essential reminder of what can happen when the team takes its foot off the gas.


How we think it will play out:


Modbury should keep themselves from being relegated straight away again. The quality of the side assembled should see the Jets comfortably in mid-table at the least.


After finding themselves in a comfortable position in 2022, Modbury took their foot off the gas in the State League One Finals Series, which they cannot afford to do in 2023. Should the Jets find themselves in a good position, a strong mentality can see it challenge for the top six. But a loss of focus during a damaging spell could have a disastrous impact.


West Adelaide


Best case scenario:


Speaking to Front Page Football after his side's promotion to the NPL, West Adelaide coach Jim Tsekinis stressed the importance of consolidating their position in the league before taking further steps forward.


Survival is the name of the game for Hellas in 2023. With a strong team spirit and the potential grand opening of their new home, West Adelaide fans will be hoping to see their side make life complicated for their opponents throughout the season while collecting enough points to stay up.

Worst case scenario:


A season where West Adelaide does not compete strongly and finds themselves effortlessly relegated is a concern for anyone involved with the club. Losing multiple critical players over the off-season has been causing little optimism.


Tsekinis will be giving opportunities to his young charges with the hope they can acclimate to the NPL and help the side earn enough points to stay up. Should that not go to plan, the situation may become demoralising.


How we think it will play out:


West Adelaide will compete. Last season felt like the club's rebirth, with players passionate about playing for Hellas for the first time in a while.


Despite their expected losses, a competitive spirit will be present. It will be a week-by-week proposition to see if the side has enough quality to survive. If they do, it may be even more impressive than their State League One Championship feat in 2022.

 

Season 2023 is shaping up as one of the most competitive in recent memory when it comes to fighting for the championship and spots in the Finals Series.


With the introduction of a National Second Division approaching, clubs will be keen to impress in their local competition. Players will also want to catch the eye of recruiters around Australia as brand-new full-time football opportunities become available in 2024.


Whichever side takes out the championship at the end of the season, this campaign promises excitement, with stories of domination, redemption, heartbreak, and disappointment waiting to be written.


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