NPL Men’s NNSW Finals Week One Preview: Magic and Azzurri go to battle, while the Magpies and Weston fight it out to stay alive

Qualifying Final 
Broadmeadow Magic FC v Charlestown Azzurri FC  
Magic Park, Sunday 1pm 

A spot in the major semi-final is on the line when Broadmeadow Magic host Charlestown Azzurri in the qualifying final at Magic Park on Sunday afternoon. 

It is a contest that offers the winner a chance to meet the Lambton Jaffas in week two of the finals series with a spot in the grand final on the line, but will also ensure that the loser will have to play every week from here on in if they are to reach the decider. 

Magic and Azzurri are two of the form teams in recent years. They both played finals football in 2022, but Azzurri were knocked out in the elimination final and Magic bowed out in the preliminary final.  

They have both bounced back in style to claim top-three spots in 2023 and had a chance to win the premiership. Defending champions Lambton Jaffas topped the ladder on 46 points, but second-placed Broadmeadow (45) and third-placed Charlestown (44) were not far off. 

Magic finished second by a point for the second year in a row in 2023. They won 14 games, drew three and lost five, and impressively finished the season having scored the most goals (61). 

Gun striker Riley Smith has led the way as he finished ranked second on the competition’s goal-scorers’ list with 18 successful strikes. Smith missed the Round 21 clash against his former club, Charlestown but he returned from suspension in style on Sunday in the final round of the season when he fired home a double, set up another and won the penalty for the final goal in a 5-0 rout of Valentine at Magic Park. 

Magic’s coach John Bennis is happy with the manner in which his side ended the regular season and he now wants to see them go a game further than they did in 2022.  

Bennis said he had a talented group of youngsters who had learned a lot from last year’s finals series as well as this year’s Men’s State Cup Final and the Australia Cup Round of 32 games. 

“We have taken away learnings from both our big games this year,” Bennis said. 

“In the Round of 32, we learned that we have to control our emotion as a group and as players and not let it influence our decision-making, and we as a group are good enough to push last year’s finalists all the way. In the State Cup, we learned that we can handle the pressure of a big occasion and I’m sure that feeling will drive them in this year’s finals series. 

“Our club and supporters will be excited to host a finals game and will be looking forward to seeing an entertaining game. Charlestown are a very physical side who work hard in and out of possession. They have the most ex A-League players in their team in the competition.” 

Magic did not call upon captain Jeremy Wilson or quality front man Jayden Stewardson in their win against Valentine. They were unused substitutes as they continue to overcome injuries sustained in recent weeks, and Bennis is unsure yet whether or not he’ll get them back on the park this weekend.  

“Stewie and Jez are still in doubt and will be undergoing fitness tests prior to kick-off,” Bennis said.  

“Other than general soreness, everyone is ok from the Valentine game.” 

Charlestown ended the regular season with 14 wins, two draws and six losses to fall just short of claiming the premiership as they were forced to settle for third. They were in the box seat for top spot following a 1-0 Round 16 victory away from home against Adamstown, but since then, they only won twice in six games and suffered three losses as they were overtaken by premiers Lambton and Qualifying Final opponents Broadmeadow. 

Azzurri coach James Pascoe knows a thing or two abouts finals contests, having steered Lambton to the championship in 2017, and now he is determined to do the same in his first year coaching Charlestown in the NPLM competition. 

Azzurri will be boosted by the return of defenders Jethro Elkington and Callum Bower from suspension this Sunday and they may also welcome back captain Nigel Boogaard to the lineup. Boogaard has not played since he limped off with a knee injury in Round 19 and was an unused substitute in Round 22. 

Should Boogaard return, it would give Pascoe the option to move Rene Ferguson from the centre back spot back up top, which would be a major concern for Broadmeadow.  

Elimination Final 
Maitland FC v Weston Workers FC  
Cooks Square Park, Saturday 1pm 

The business end of the 2023 campaign has arrived for Maitland and Weston as they go head-to-head in the elinmnation final at Cooks Square Park on Saturday.  

The highly-anticipated El Clasicoal will see one side bow out of the competition and the other go on to play in the minor semi-final the following weekend. 

Maitland and Weston are the lowest ranked of the five teams still standing in the competition. They will need to win three games to get to the grand final and there are no second chances for either side - if they lose any games from here on in, they will be eliminated. 

Maitland finished the regular season scratching their heads and searching for answers after finishing fourth. Their premiership defence started slowly as they picked up nine points from their first nine games before they rebounded with a 10-game winning streak but a draw and two losses in the final three rounds meant they blew that opportunity. 

The Magpies’ 1-0 defeat away from home against Adamstown Rosebud in Round 22 saw them end the season on 40 points following 12 wins, four draws and six losses. 

Maitland finished the season having scored an impressive 60 goals, 39 of which they netted during their impressive 10-game winning streak. They were led from the front superbly by co-captain Braedyn Crowley, who is the leading goal-scorer for the second year in a row after finding the back of the net an impressive 28 times. 

The Magpies’ coach Mick Bolch said that the key to success for his side during this finals series was regaining their mojo in the front third. 

“It was a disappointing end to the season. We only took one point out of our last nine,” Bolch said. 

“We positioned ourselves to have a real crack at the premiership, but we really squandered two chances. It just makes the boys hungrier now though.  

“We just need to find a bit of form in front of goal again and get a bit of mojo back that we had in that winning run. 

“It’s a whole different ball game now, finals. We’ve been to the last three grand finals, and we’re still a long way from making this year’s grand final, but it all starts on Saturday.” 

The Magpies will be without Tyran Cousins after he was sent off in the loss against Adamstown and will now miss the next two games. There is also an injury concern surrounding Lachlan Webb after he came from the field early in the match against Rosebud. 

But Maitland do welcome back Sean Pratt though, and are otherwise expected to be unchanged. 

For Weston, this season has been a success so far as the Bears clawed their way back into the finals for the first time since 2014.  

But they missed out on an opportunity to finish higher up the table following an inconsistent run home.  

Weston finished the regular season with a loss after they went down 2-0 away from home against Cooks Hill in Round 22, which cost them the chance to finish fourth and host the elimination final. The Bears racked up 39 points in total following 11 wins, six draws and five losses. 

Coach Kew Jaliens said that he and his club were thrilled to be back in the finals in 2023 and that the Bears’ performances in the big games this year had filled him with confidence. 

“Very excited, this is what you work towards as a team, you play for the colours and for the crowd. To give them something back in the form of finals football is great,” Jaliens said. 

“This is what you want as a coach, to play for something, and we’ve got what we wanted. Now we have to show what we’ve got. 

“We’ve had our ups and downs, but did well in most of the big games, so I hope that will be the same again.” 

Jaliens described Maitland as a dangerous team and commended their 10-game winning streak but said that the Bears would be at full strength on Saturday and were ready to tackle the Magpies. 

Only a point separated these two sides on the table this year, and there was not much splitting them when they met twice during the season either.  

Weston won their first encounter 1-0 in Round Five back in April, and Maitland responded in style with a 3-1 victory in Round 16 in June. The winners of both of those games were the away side, a trend that Maitland is determined to end on Saturday.

Premiers Lambton Jaffas have this weekend off and will play in the major semi-final the following weekend.