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  • Writer's pictureAntonis Pagonis

NPL SA 2024: A defining question for each club heading into the new season

With the NPL SA season kicking off tonight, Front Page Football asks one defining question for each club participating in South Australia's premier state division in 2024.

Service FM Stadium

The NPL SA 2024 season kicks off tonight. (Image: Adam Butler/80kms)


How do the MetroStars replace the competition's best one-two punch?


Under new manager Danny Graystone, the MetroStars caught the NPL SA by surprise in 2023, storming their way to a Premiership and a Federation Cup victory. A well-constructed squad full of quality was highlighted by the deadly combination of James Temelkovski and Austin Ayoubi, who caused havoc against their opponents on a weekly basis.


Unsurprisingly, the dynamic duo was not short of new opportunities after their standout seasons, with Temelkovski moving to NST foundation club Marconi Stallions and Ayoubi receiving an Adelaide United contract for the remainder of the A-League Men season. Their exits left Graystone and his team with the tall task of replacing their stars.


MetroStars have signed the likes of Stefan Tantari, Christian Sotira, Emmanuel Dolo, and Sallu Kamara, who will all play their role in replacing the duo. While the quality of Temelkovski and Ayoubi will be hard to replace, arguably, the chemistry the two had will be just as crucial as Metro look to once again mount a charge for silverware in a league that is set to be competitive at the top.

Does Campbelltown have enough in their reloaded arsenal?


Over the past decade, Campbelltown City have set the standard in the NPL SA. Since 2013, the Red Devils have won two premierships and five championships, and they even won the NPL National Finals Series in 2018. Despite not having won a trophy since 2020, Campbelltown attracted two of the competition's top players to the club in the offseason, in a bid to return to the top.


While Campbelltown's midfield stocks will be improved with the addition of Kristin Konstandopoulos, the mouthwatering partnership of Campbelltown marksman Marc Marino and new signing Josh Mori will capture the headlines. Two of South Australia's best goal scorers in recent years, combined with two of the top assisters in the league in 2023, Shogo Yoshikawa and Yohei Matsumoto, are sure to make for box office viewing.

Campbelltown will be there come the pointy end of the season; the question remains if their stars can produce when it matters to take the club back where it feels it belongs. When you consider the top-end additions that have been made and the general stability of the club and the squad, it is hard not to get excited about what 2024 holds for the Red Devils.

Josh Mori

Josh Mori will add to Campbelltown City's attacking stocks in 2024. (Image: Pagonis Photography)


Who will stand up from Adelaide United's next generation?


Adelaide United's NPL success has combined with outgoing A-League Men transfers and a lack of incoming activity to provide a lot of young players with professional opportunities. In the past few years, the Reds have provided A-League Men debuts to players such as Alex Popovic, Steven Hall, Ethan Alagich, Jonny Yull, Luka Jovanovic, Giuseppe Bovalina, Musa Toure, Nestory Irankunda, and Panagiotis Kikianis, which has always meant another young talent played in the NPL.


With the majority of the aforementioned players still at the club and finding themselves involved with the senior side on a weekly basis, it means that the next generation of talented South Australian players will have a clear run to make their mark for Adelaide United's NPL outfit for the first half of the season. Even after the A-League Men listed players are eligible and available for NPL selection, it is hard to see players Carl Veart sees as required starting XI members returning to that level.


It is not a secret that the South Australian community has provided Adelaide United with a stack of talent, and they will continue to leave their mark as the Young Reds attempt to defend their title. That may seem a tall task, but it is an excellent opportunity for young players such as Amlani Tatu, Jake Porter, Harry Crawford, Ryan White, Riley Stam, Fabian Talladira, Bailey O'Neil, Sotiri Phillis, and many others to stake a claim as the next breakout stars in the pipeline to professional football.
Amlani Tatu

Amlani Tatu (left) is just one of the next crop of Young Reds who will get the opportunity to impress in 2024. (Image: Pagonis Photography)


Can Adelaide City live up to the hype?


Adelaide City's history and achievements have made them a club that hype naturally gravitated towards. In 2023, it was more than understandable. Paul Pezos' side entered as back-to-back champions before their season ended abruptly at the hands of the Modbury Jets in the first week of the Finals Series.


The hype is back in 2024, with additions such as Gideon Arok, Yared Abetew, Peter Akot, Luis Lawrie-Lattanzio, Adam Piscioneri, Patrick Caraccia, Harry Thomas, Fergus Lynch, and Lewis Killoh, ensuring City enters the year as one of the favourites for the championship. On paper, it is hard to disagree. With so many moving pieces, half the work is finding a place for them, and a pre-season of mixed results has proved that the process will take time.


Past form and recruitment suggest that it will be tight at the top of the NPL SA this year, so if City are to compete for a premiership, those teething issues will have to be resolved pretty soon. Once the Finals Series begins, though, it is anyone's game. When it comes to talent, the Black and White are constructed to go toe to toe with anyone in the competition.
Adelaide City 2024

A new-look Adelaide City will be aiming to compete for silverware once again in 2024. (Image: Pagonis Photography)


How do the Modbury Jets recover from their Grand Final collapse?


To say Modbury overachieved in 2023 is understating Maurice Natale's side's achievements. In just their first year after being promoted from State League One, the Jets made the Finals Series before knocking out back-to-back champion Adelaide City and 2023 premiers MetroStars en route to a fairytale Grand Final appearance.


There was not to be a happily ever after in this fairytale, though, with Modbury conceding seven goals to Adelaide United on their big stage. Despite an unfortunate ending, the Jets could take a lot of positives from their season, but in 2024, it is all about backing it up.


Modbury have maintained the core of their squad, and it will be the McCabe brothers that should deliver the brunt of the damage once again. If they can put together another strong season and the Jets unit improves defensively, Modbury may once again prove to be an opponent no one wants to come up against at the pointy end of the season.

Have the Adelaide Comets finally found their striker?


Despite not having the championships to back their claim, the Adelaide Comets have been one of the NPL's most consistent sides the past half-decade, having only missed one Grand Final since the 2019 decider. Having fielded a powerful team with few weaknesses for years, the Comets have consistently missed a clinical striker in his prime who can stay on the field.


George Tsonis may have just found his man in Roberto Fernandez Garrido, who has joined the Comets from Tasmanian giants the Devonport City Strikers. Lethal does not begin to describe the new Comets marksman, who has scored an astonishing 55 goals in his last two campaigns in Tasmania.


Alongside his ruthless streak in front of goal, Fernandez Garrido does not lack confidence, audaciously pulling off a panenka penalty in Devonport's Semi-Final victory against the Kingborough Lions last year. A signing of this quality in such an important position may be just what the Comets need to climb back up the ladder and resume competing for silverware.
 

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Can Croydon find the balance between attack and defence?


Croydon FC have found themselves in the middle of the table the past couple of seasons, but the two campaigns could not have been any different in how they played out. While Croydon's stingy defence saw them sneak into the 2022 Finals Series in the sixth spot before being let down by their attack, the addition of Andre Carle unlocked the goals in 2023. Still, Travis Dodd's side narrowly missed the top six, significantly struggling to keep goals out.


Croydon's goal difference has been +1 and 0 in those respective campaigns, which points to the positive elements of their game being cancelled out by the negatives. Adding Bol Mapor along with Chris Vivian's return to full fitness will surely aid Croydon's defensive stability.

Meanwhile, on the attacking side, Carle and Meiya Hisamoto will only improve with another year at the club. The additions of attacking players like Jaiden Diamantis and Santana Bartkowski, along with the natural progression of Tom Visser, could see Croydon turn into a scary proposition in front of goal. If the cards fall right, Dodd's side may be the surprise packet of season 2024.


Will Jason Konstandopoulos take the next step to stardom at FK Beograd?


Despite an array of signings in the leadup to the 2023 season, FK Beograd was not able to find any semblance of consistency as they missed out on the top six for a second straight season after promotion. A change of manager has also led to a turnover of the squad's core, with one glaring exit being captain and star Josh Mori. Jason Konstandopoulos was Beograd's standout addition, with the winger moving from Adelaide City, the club he joined after leaving his junior club, Adelaide Olympic.


At only 20 years of age, Konstandopoulos is still a young player with room to grow. At FK Beograd, he may be able to take the next step from being a good player to becoming a genuine star of the competition.

In the past couple of seasons, Beograd has allowed players like Mori and Brian Kaltak to grab the spotlight before receiving professional opportunities. Konstandopoulos will be hoping to do something similar in 2024. The winger showed positive signs of being the player Beograd wants him to become in pre-season, even scoring against Adelaide United. Incoming coach Adrian D'Aloia will be doing everything he can to support him and his new-look team as they look to return a proud club to the NPL SA Finals Series.

Jason Konstandopoulos

Jason Konstandopoulos played a starring role in FK Beograd's pre-season friendly victory over Adelaide United. (Image: Pagonis Photography)


Can Adelaide Olympic combine professionalism with stability to return to the Finals Series?


In 2023, Andrew Calderbank kicked off his tenure as Adelaide Olympic's manager, yet it seemed he never quite settled into the role, prompting his early departure from the club. Jason Trimboli stepped in as his replacement. Despite a rocky start, Olympic survived comfortably and even briefly flirted with the sixth Finals Series spot.


In a competition where small margins can make significant differences, stability is paramount, and Olympic will be hoping to find that under new coach Kristi Vangjeli. The former Albania national team defender called time on his career after his last season playing for Olympic and was appointed to the top job, where he has overseen a turnover to a large part of the squad.


Under his leadership, Olympic have recruited players such as Arbi Mollas, Binyam Kebede, Martins Abesida, Teeboy Kamara, Tzoi Tsarkani, and Andrew Marveggio, while also increasing their training schedule to provide a more professional environment.


If the array of new players fit their roles, and the increased training load at a semi-professional level has its desired effect, Olympic has enough talent to push for a first Finals Series appearance since 2019.

Will South Adelaide's additions be adequate support for the Rideouts?


The final round of the 2023 season saw South Adelaide survive the drop, and a significant reason the Panthers were even in a position to stay up was through the brilliance of the Rideout brothers.


Their influence was so great that 17 of South Adelaide's 35 league goals were scored by Jonathon Rideout, while Alex Rideout remained his team's chief creator from open play and set pieces.

When two players dominate proceedings at such a high level for a team, the margin of error becomes extremely low, so South Adelaide took advantage of Sturt's relegation to lighten the load on their stars. Geographical proximity in a semi-professional league meant that there was a lot of interest for players to continue their NPL journey in the southern suburbs of Adelaide. Thus, players such as Tyreece Conway, Nick Samaras, Cayden Yates, and Akira Kobaishi joined the Panthers for their 2024 campaign.


With a top-heavy side becoming more balanced, South will try to make their home a fortress once again. If that effort can succeed and combine with on-field support for the Rideout brothers' heroics, South Adelaide's sealing could very well be knocking on the door of the top six.


Can Raiders be 2024's surprise package?

Adelaide Croatia Raiders' promotion back to the NPL SA did not just mean a historical club returning to the state's top division but also one with aspirations ready to make their mark once they got there.

Raiders wasted no time recruiting, adding the likes of Paul Radice, Katsuyoshi Kimishima, Oliver Zafiridis, Stefan Matteo, Anthony Costa, Brad Corbo, and Jai King to an already strong squad.


Speaking with Front Page Football after the conclusion of the 2023 campaign, Croatia manager Vlado Blazeka shared that he takes inspiration from the Modbury Jets story, a side that was able to make a Grand Final in their first season after promotion. While no one will ever predict that before a season starts, there is no reason why Raiders cannot be part of the competitive pack pushing for a top six position.


Once the new players settle into their side, Raiders will be a handful, but their challenge will be maintaining a consistent mentality regardless of their opponent. One team that will be fighting in a similar part of the table as Croatia is their rivals, FK Beograd, and having these two clubs compete in the same league again makes the competition better.


Have Para Hills added enough to escape the drop?


After facing heartbreak at the hands of West Adelaide in the 2022 State League One Grand Final, the Para Hills Knights returned to the NPL SA despite falling short in the 2023 championship decider to the already promoted Adelaide Croatia Raiders. Despite earning promotion, the Knights have maintained the majority of their squad while only adding a few complimentary pieces. Signings like Abu Hussein and Harrison Connant will help the Knights with life back in the NPL.


The loss of Riley Stam to Adelaide United's NPL setup leaves a massive hole for Para Hills that needs to be filled in goal contributions. The Para Hills production line must be commended, with Ryan White only being picked up by the Young Reds the season before, but it leaves the Knights in a tough spot on the field.

Consolidating their NPL status will be the top priority for Para Hills, who face an arduous journey to remain at the top. Still, if the team gels well together, a few players start making their mark in the new league, and team spirit remains high throughout the year, expect the Knights to continue fighting until their goal is met.

Abu Hussein

Abu Hussein, who represented Burundi in the African Nations Cup, has signed for Para Hills Knights to fill the void left by Riley Stam's exit. (Image: Pagonis Photography)



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