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  • Writer's pictureAntonis Pagonis

NPL SA 2024: Seven storylines to look forward to ahead of the new season

As South Australia prepares for the new NPL season, Front Page Football looks at seven storylines to track heading into the 2024 campaign.

Hamish McCabe

The Modbury Jets entered 2023 as a promoted side, but this season, they have the runners-up tag to contend with. (Image: Adam Butler/80kms)


Two major derbies return


One feature state competitions possess that is not yet replicated in Australia's professional national league is promotion and relegation. At times, the promoted teams may be expected, and at other times, they may come out of the blue. Still, they always create storylines, and 2024 will be no different after the Adelaide Croatia Raiders and Para Hills Knights earned the right to play in the NPL SA after an incredibly competitive 2023 State League One season.


For the first time since 2021, NPL football returns to the Croatian Sports Center, and this time, Raiders enter the top flight where they will once again have to co-exist with rivals FK Beograd. The last time the two sides were in South Australia's top flight in the same season was in 2015. The state's football community eagerly anticipates the resumption of hostilities in a rivalry as heated as it is historic.

Meanwhile, fresh from making the NPL SA Grand Final in their first season after promotion, the Modbury Jets will be re-acquainted with their own rivals, Para Hills, after their promotion from State League One. Fans will not have to wait long for this derby to get underway, with the season's curtain raiser taking place at Smith Partners Stadium as last season's runners-up welcome their recently promoted adversaries back to the state's premier competition.

FK Beograd vs Adelaide Croatia Raiders

Tempers flare during the 2015 clash between the Adelaide Croatia Raiders and FK Beograd, the last time the rivals were in the NPL SA at the same time. (Image: Adam Butler/80kms)


Adelaide City's revenge tour


Coming in from back-to-back championships, it just never clicked for Adelaide City in 2023. After a slow first half of the season saw City drop out of the top six, they had a stronger second half of the season and made the Finals Series. Still, their season abruptly ended when they lost to the Modbury Jets in the first week of the post-season.


A disappointing end to the season was always going to motivate manager Paul Pezos to strengthen his side in his quest to reclaim silverware. City added top-quality players from around the competition, such as Gideon Arok, Yared Abetew, Peter Akot, Luis Lawrie-Lattanzio, Adam Piscioneri, Patrick Caraccia, Harry Thomas, Fergus Lynch, and Lewis Killoh as a clear statement of intent.


A talented, refreshed squad under a brilliant tactical coach with a point to prove potentially foreshadows a season where Adelaide City returns to competing for the championship. If the array of new pieces find their spots in the puzzle, the sky is the limit for a squad that, on paper, looks set to compete.
Adelaide City 2024

Adelaide City's new-look side will be looking to return silverware to Oakden in 2024. (Image: Pagonis Photography)


A taste of Tasmania


As a new season approaches, clubs naturally try to find the edge over their rivals, and the transfer market is no different. Two NPL clubs dived into the Tasmanian NPL to bolster their squads this off-season.


Adelaide Comets have seemingly found their new striker in Roberto Fernandez Garrido, who scored an astonishing 55 goals across the past two seasons for Tasmanian giants Devonport Strikers. If the Comets are to rise up the ladder again, the forward will play a significant role in that. You only have to look at James Temelkovski and the MetroStars in 2023 to see what a clinical striker can do to a side.

After losing both James Temelkovski and Austin Ayoubi, MetroStars have looked interstate to replenish their ranks, and one of their signings is Launceston City's Stefan Tantari. Despite only being 20, Tantari has made over 100 senior appearances since debuting at 15 years of age and was even a member of the Devonport Strikers' 2019 NPL Tasmania Championship-winning side.

Campbelltown's dynamic midfield and forward line boost


While Campbelltown City did not go on the same recruiting spree as Adelaide City when it comes to quantity, the quality of the Red Devils' additions cannot be questioned. After falling one week short of their intended target in 2023, Campbelltown recruited two of the competition's most influential players to bolster their midfield and forward line.


Injuries have plagued the talented Kristin Konstandopoulos' time at Adelaide Olympic in recent years. After returning to the field, the midfielder has switched his allegiance to the Newton-based club. If Konstandopoulos can remain fit, his partnership with back-to-back Sergio Melta Medalist Alex Mullen will be an insurmountable challenge on its day for most opposing midfield combinations.

Meanwhile, further up the field, Marc Marino has led the Campbelltown forward line for years, with a stack of goals and silverware to show for it. But in 2024, he will have a partner in crime. FK Beograd star Josh Mori has joined Campbelltown and will form a formidable partnership with Marino for a side looking to claim its first title since 2020.

Josh Mori

Josh Mori in action for Campbelltown City against Croydon FC in a pre-season friendly match (Image: Pagonis Photography)

 

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South Adelaide capitalise on Sturt's misfortune


The final relegation place in the 2023 NPL SA season came down to two of the competition's southernmost clubs, Sturt Lions and South Adelaide Panthers, with the winner of that race having more to gain than just the retention of their South Australian top-flight status due to the nature of a semi-professional competition.


The Panthers survived by three points, which meant Anthony Rideout's side could recruit freely from their southern counterparts, offering NPL football at close proximity for players based in Adelaide's southern suburbs. South Adelaide recruited Cayden Yates, Tyreece Conway, Akira Kobaishi, and Nick Samaras from Sturt for the 2024 NPL SA season.


While Yates and Kobaishi will add grit and quality, making the Panthers tough to beat, Conway and Samaras will help ease the load on the Rideout brothers, who have carried the brunt of South Adelaide's creation and goalscoring since their promotion. The signings from Sturt, alongside other recruits such as Mitch Sumnall, Doni Pollock, and Byungtae Ahn may set up the Panthers for a top six push.

Two unlikely Grand Finalists become the hunted


For most of the 2023 NPL SA season, the Grand Final seemed destined to be contested between MetroStars and Campbelltown City, the two most consistent teams. When the big day came, much to everyone's surprise, Adelaide United took on Modbury Jets for the championship.


Adelaide United remains a developmental side in the NPL. Airton Andrioli's Young Reds entered 2023 with growth as the primary focus and success at the season's pointy end being secondary. Meanwhile, Modbury had a solid team on paper. Regardless, as a recently promoted side entering the season, their focus was survival.


Entering 2024 as Grand Finalists, both sides will have expectations and, more importantly, targets on their backs. A mostly unchanged Modbury side will be looking to return to the Finals Series. Meanwhile, the next crop of Young Reds faces the tall task of replacing the players Carl Veart has called up to his A-League Men squad while looking to find the balance between performance and development once again.

Modbury Jets and Adelaide United face the challenge of backing up their 2023 Finals Series exploits in 2024. (Image: Adam Butler/80kms)


Ambitious but underperforming clubs hire young coaches


The NPL SA is a tight competition, with the majority of clubs usually separated by a handful of points. While that keeps teams in the run for the top six longer, clubs like FK Beograd and Adelaide Olympic have been on the wrong side of that line the past few seasons.


FK Beograd enters 2024 having hired Campbelltown City assistant coach Adrian D'Aloia and have made some key additions, including Adelaide City's Jason Konstandopoulos. It will be as contested as ever in the middle of the NPL SA table this upcoming season. Nonetheless, D'Aloia will be hoping that his first season as a senior head coach leads to Beograd's first Finals Series appearance since being promoted into the competition in 2022.

Adelaide Olympic's last Finals Series appearance was in 2019. After going through the instability of having a coaching change halfway through last season, former Olympic player and Albanian international Kristi Vangjeli has taken over the reins in his first senior head coaching job. Training frequency has increased, and signings like Teeboy Kamara have entered a club chasing a return to the Finals Series as they begin writing their new chapter.

Jason Konstandopoulos

FK Beograd will be aiming to make the NPL SA Finals Series for the first time since earning promotion back to the competition. (Image: Pagonis Photography)


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