HIT106.9 Northern League One Round Two Preview: Kahibah to start season strong against goal-scoring machine BelSwans 

Match of the Round
Kahibah FC v Belmont Swansea United FC 
Lake Macquarie Regional Football Facility, Sunday 7pm 

Kahibah’s season will finally get underway on Sunday night when they challenge Belmont Swansea after they sat out with the round one bye last weekend. 

The match will be the first of two home games that Kahibah will play at the facility as they wait for their home ground at Kahibah Oval to become available in April following the completion of the cricket season. 

Matt Moncrieff is back on board as Kahibah’s coach this year and is eager for his side to test themselves against the team who by all signs is the benchmark of the competition so far, Belmont Swansea. 

BelSwans demolished Cessnock 10-3 in their season opener last Saturday night, which was the ideal start to the campaign for one of the league’s powerhouse clubs after they went on an uncharacteristic five-game losing streak at the end of last season to finish in eighth place. 

Kahibah, who finished fourth in 2023, have strengthened their squad over the off-season with the addition of about 12 new faces.  

Amongst the new signings at the club are Jacob Zissis (Weston), Jason Cowburn (Lake Macquarie), Daniel Byrne (Lambton), Daniel Keelan (Wallsend), BJ Butt (Broadmeadow), Braith Pellew (Charlestown Azzurri) and the returning Jaidyn Kianou who had a year off in 2023.  

But Kahibah has lost the likes of Ben Higgins, Jacob Kepreotes, Jamie Hadlow, Matt Lee and George Stephens who have left big shoes to fill. 

Moncrieff is looking forward to Kahibah’s season getting underway on Sunday and the opportunity to see how his players gel together early on. 

“Pre-season was a bit up and down. We haven’t set the world on fire,” Moncrieff said. 

“I’m pretty happy with where we are though. A chunk of our squad is gone from last year. There’s probably 12 gone out and 12 have come in.  

“We lacked in the goal-scoring department last year and that’s pretty much where we targeted and where we’ve improved this year. Five or six of our new blokes have all got multiple goals in them. They will go well along with Riley Ferguson and Tyson Masters, who were our leading goal-scorers last year.  

“We’ve pretty much got the same backline as last year too, except for our keeper (Stephens). We were the best in the league in defence last year, and now our attack is a lot different. 

“We’re heading in the right direction and we’re ready to take on the big boys this weekend. Everyone wants to tell you BelSwans are going to win the comp, so we get to test ourselves against the best team in the comp straight up, and we get to see where we’re at. 

“Mick (BelSwans’ coach, Mick Stafford) has brought a lot of players into his club to strengthen them, which he probably had to after running eighth last year. I didn’t watch them last weekend and don’t really know what to expect from them, but I know every time we play BelSwans it’s a good battle and a close game. 

“It’s a good club rivalry, and I don’t expect it to be any different on Sunday.” 

While Stafford was thrilled with his side’s goal-scoring prowess in the big win against Cessnock last weekend, he was disappointed to have conceded three goals and is hoping to see his men tighten up in defence in their second game of the season on Sunday. 

BelSwans’s gaffer is expecting a tough match from Kahibah, who he knows will be determined to kick off their campaign with a victory. 

“I’m expecting Kahibah to be decent. Matt knows what he’s doing and he’s recruited quite well,” Stafford said.

“It’s going to be hard to play on the synthetic because we definitely aren’t used to that at BelSwans and they train on it every week, so there’s a little advantage there that Kahibah has. 

“If we focus on our defensive shape and our transition play, I think we’ll show a good account of ourselves out there.” 

While this rivalry is well-known for its tight, low-scoring contests, a new chapter may well be written on Sunday night.  

There were only four goals in total scored across the three meetings between these two sides in 2023, but with both clubs having improved in the attacking department this season, that figure could be surpassed in 90 minutes of football at the Lake Macquarie Regional Football Facility in round two. 

West Wallsend SFC v Thornton Redbacks FC 
Johnston Park, Friday 8pm 

Kicking off the round at Johnston Park will see West Wallsend hoping to get their season off to a positive start when they welcome the Thornton Redbacks.

The defending champions were scheduled to host the season opener against Singleton at the same venue last Friday night, but wild weather hit town and the match was postponed to Wednesday, March 6.  

That means the Bluebells will play three games in nine days before they sit out with the Round Four bye and coach Bailey Cox is intent on picking up nine points from those fixtures. 

West Wallsend take on a determined Thornton Redbacks side who showed in their first game of the campaign last Saturday away from home against Toronto Awaba that they will not be pushovers in 2024.  

It was always going to be a tough start to the season for the Redbacks, given they were dealt away games against the reigning premiers and champions in the first two rounds, but co-coach Gerard Carey liked what he saw from his men in a 3-3 draw against the Stags and is hoping to see much of the same on Friday night against the Bluebells. 

“Our pre-season was severely disrupted because we lost nine significant players across the squad,” Carey said. 

“We were very concerned, but somebody up there was on our side because out of the blue, guys just turned up. We’ve got a reasonable squad but the focus really has been on team discipline.  

“For the Toronto game, we came up with a decent defensive plan, a transition plan and a counter-attacking plan, and it worked. We probably had more and the better of the chances in the first half, but it took a minute for our guys to work out what they’d worked on and where they should be. In the second half, we were doing the same stuff and all of a sudden they were there. We were really happy they learnt within one game.” 

Carey, who was one of the founding members of the club back in 1978, said that there was an improved sense of club spirit at Thornton in 2024 and he thought the Redbacks fighting back from three deficits in the game against Toronto to earn a point proved that. 

“There’s a different atmosphere here this year. We’ve got blokes here now that are really digging deep and giving 100 per cent,” Carey said. 

Cessnock City Hornets FC v Singleton Strikers FC 
Turner Park, Saturday 4pm 

Cessnock City Hornets will be hoping to erase the memory of their round one match when they return home to Turner Park on Saturday afternoon to face Singleton Strikers.  

The Hornets entered the season full of optimism and there were positive signs at half-time of their away game against BelSwans last Saturday night when the teams went into the break locked at 2-2. But a second half capitulation saw the Cessnock men concede eight times in 45 minutes and score a late consolation goal as they copped a 10-3 defeat. 

Coach Brad Miles said that he and his men were disappointed with their second half in that match and challenged his players to put in a full 90-minute performance against a Singleton team that he expects will produce an impressive performance. 

“It was a game of two halves,” Miles said.  

“We played really well in the first half, but in the second half, it was like a different team went out there. We were very inconsistent and we made poor choices. It was disappointing. 

“We always get a decent crowd at Turner Park and it’s good to play in front of. We’re looking forward to it,” Miles said. 

“Singleton are a good team and Dougie West is there now so they’ll be well-coached. We’re expecting a hard game. 

“I want to see a 90-minute performance this weekend. The game obviously goes for 90 minutes, not 45. We’ve got to be switched on. The guys are hurting more than anybody and they know what they’ve got to do to bounce back.” 

Saturday afternoon’s match will be Singleton’s first of the season after their round one match last Friday night against West Wallsend was called off when a storm hit Johnston Park and washed out the field.  

The match has been rescheduled for next Wednesday, March 6, meaning the Strikers now have three away games to contest in eight days. 

Wallsend FC v Toronto Awaba FC 
The Gardens, Sunday 2:30pm 

Wallsend are at home for the first time in the 2024 campaign on Saturday when they host the reigning premiers Toronto Awaba at The Gardens. 

The Red Devils kicked off the season in style last Friday when they downed 2023 grand finalists South Cardiff 4-0 under lights at Ulinga Oval, inspired by a Cody Halpin goal of the season contender that he launched from behind the halfway line. 

But it was Wallsend’s defence that was most impressive last week, as goalkeeper Wil Goodwin and his backline produced a tidy and determined effort. 

The Red Devils’ coach Chris Gallager liked what he saw from his men across the park, especially in defence, and said that his main focus this weekend was keeping a clean sheet against the Stags. 

“People who watched that game (against South Cardiff) will see what we’re focused on,” Gallagher said.  

“We’re focused on being hard to beat to start with, and we think we can be fairly ruthless in the front third when we get our chances. That’s all we want to do – keep it really simple, play to a basic game plan, work hard and show up for each other, and see what happens from there.  

“We know that everyone is going to come at us 100 miles an hour because they probably don’t think that we have the quality to compete with their first grade squads. So we’ll set up for a period of time to be really hard to beat, and be very good at that. We’ve got 27 games across three rounds. We’ll be working on some things, and by the end of it, we’ll probably be completely different. 

“First off though, you’ve got to be rock-solid at the back with good foundations.” 

Toronto Awaba’s coach Jarrad Hiles said that he and his men were well aware that the Red Devils would be up for this Sunday’s game following their positive start to the season.  

Hiles wants to see the Stags match Wallsend’s intensity and attitude and also be more organised in their defensive third. 

South Cardiff FC has the bye.