NPL Men’s NNSW Finals Week Two Preview: Grand final spot on the line for Jaffas and Magic before Azzurri and Bears fight to stay alive

Major Semi-Final 
Lambton Jaffas FC v Broadmeadow Magic FC  
Arthur Edden Oval, Saturday 2:30pm 

Premiers and defending champions Lambton Jaffas have a chance to lock in a second consecutive grand final appearance when they host the major semi-final at home this Saturday against Broadmeadow Magic. 

The two form teams of the 2023 campaign will go head-to-head in the blockbuster clash at Arthur Edden Oval. The winners will go straight through to the grand final but the losing side will have to progress through the preliminary final the following weekend against the winner of Sunday’s minor semi-final between Charlestown and Weston at Lisle Carr Oval. 

Lambton received a major boost for Saturday’s game last night when their appeal of Kale Bradbery’s Round 22 red card and subsequent five-game suspension was successful. The side’s leading goal-scorer is now available to play this Saturday against the club he won the championship with back in 2018, and his coach David Tanchevski was thrilled with the result. 

“We were successful in our appeal,” Tanchevski said. 

“The referee supported our position that, upon reflection, the language used by Kale was not sufficiently offensive to warrant a straight red card. As a result, the disciplinary committee upheld our appeal.  

“Kale is appreciative of the referee’s understanding.” 

Bradbery’s inclusion in the 2023 finals series will fill the Jaffas with confidence given his impressive form. He started off playing out wide but was moved into the number nine role midway through the season, which sparked Lambton’s surging run home to the premiership. 

Bradbery also scored the 83rd-minute winner against Broadmeadow in Round 16 in June when the two sides last met, which was the second time that the Jaffas prevailed against Magic this year following their 3-1 victory at Magic Park in Round Five back in April. 

Despite the head-to-head form being on their side, Tanchevski is wary of the danger that John Bennis’ team possesses. He also said that his men could not wait to get back out onto the park for the first time since they clinched the premiership. 

“Everyone is really excited and ready to play again after the weekend off,” Tanchevski said. 

“I think the Kale news will create a bit of a buzz tonight at training and we’ll be preparing well for the game. 

“Magic have given us two tough games when we’ve played them. They are a very young and mobile side, so for them, their movement is really good. We have to match their intensity, especially in the first half, then hopefully our experience gets us on top in the second half.”  

Lambton earned the weekend off as a reward for finishing first at the conclusion of the 22-round regular season, which Tanchevski thought had come at the right time for his team. 

“It probably has helped. I think we would have struggled to back up the following week to be honest,” Tanchevski said. 

“That last game, I think it took its toll physically and emotionally on the boys. Playing with nine men and the emotions of getting through that and winning it and finishing first.” 

The Jaffas will be without one of their most experienced players for the finals campaign after centre back Josh Piddington was sent off for a dangerous tackle in the final round of the regular season and received a three-match ban.  

Riley McNaughton will most likely line up alongside Nikolai Topor-Stanley to fill that void, with the returning Pat Bond expected to slot back into the centre of the park. 

The Jaffas are also without Sakeel Balfour Brown for the remainder of the year who will miss the finals series due to personal reasons, while Finn Todhunter is unfortunately no chance of returning from injury. 

Broadmeadow have one injury concern as they could potentially be without skipper Jeremy Wilson again. He continues to struggle to overcome an injury he sustained in the side’s State Cup Final victory last month, and a decision on his availability will more than likely be made on game day. 

Bennis acknowledged that for the second week in a row, Magic’s opposition were far more experienced but is confident his men are ready to rise to the occasion once again. 

“Lambton are a tough opponent, obviously. They’ll be defensively sound and they have players that can hurt you at the other end too,” Bennis said. 

“Their biggest strength, I think, is their experience. They’ve got guys that have been there before and played finals football and have played at higher levels. 

“It’s at their ground too, which is also a difficult place to play. 

“We’ll be sticking to our processes and how we set up, and I’ll have a game plan that we’ll try to execute. We’ll work to our strengths, but we’re mindful of what they have as well. 

“I think we have to just continue on from what we’ve been showing the past couple of weeks. I want more of the same in that regard. 

“It’s a finals game so we have to have a good mindset and be ready and handle the occasion. 

“We have such a young group, and these games are exciting. These are the occasions you want to be in as a player and the boys are excited. We’re looking forward to it.” 

Minor Semi-Final 
Charlestown Azzurri FC v Weston Workers FC  
Lisle Carr Oval, Sunday 2:30pm 

It’s do-or-die for two of the competition’s heavyweights this Sunday at Lisle Carr Oval when Charlestown Azzurri host Weston Bears in a highly-anticipated minor semi-final match. 

The season is on the line for both teams as the loser of this match will be eliminated and the winner will progress to the preliminary final the following weekend to play for a spot in the decider. 

Adding to the buzz and excitement around the game is the fact that Azzurri will finally get a chance to host their old boys’ day and sponsors’ day events which was postponed when their Round 21 match against Broadmeadow was rescheduled.  

Azzurri have been one of the best and most consistent teams all year in 2023. They were on top of the table for the majority of the season but stumbled late in the campaign as injuries and suspensions took their toll and saw James Pascoe’s men drop to third place, missing out on the premiership by three points. 

They got almost everyone back on deck last Sunday for their qualifying final match against Magic, but they were underdone and certainly showed signs of that as they went down 4-2 to miss out on the major semi-final. 

The side’s vice-captain and gun centre-back Taylor Regan thought they were better for the hit out together though, and said they were hungry to make amends for the past few weeks in the must-win match against the Bears. 

“We limped through the finish line towards the end of the season with regards to suspension and injuries, but on the weekend, we welcomed a few of those players back,” Regan said. 

“We have to remember that Nigel Boogaard hadn’t played for five weeks, nor had he really trained, Cal Bower had been suspended four out of the past five weeks, and Rene Ferguson hadn’t played up front for the past five weeks due to having to reshuffle things. 

“Players are coming back and they have been short of a match, but it’s the NPL finals series, so you don’t have time to dwell on those things. 

“We were gutted when we didn’t get a trophy after leading for 20 out of the 22 rounds. It was pretty heartbreaking. So we had to get ourselves up and we didn’t do that last weekend. The boys have got a bit of a point to prove now, not to anyone else, but to ourselves. 

“On paper, people probably never really gave us a chance, but as a tight-knit group, we’ve stuck together and we’d hate to bow out this weekend. We’ll give it a good shake.” 

“Kew (Jaliens) lives about 200 metres away from Azzurri’s home ground, which is also about 200 metres away from me, so if he does happen to get the chocolates, he’ll have to pack up the house and move,” Regan said.  

“Weston are a good side and Kew’s got them playing really good football. They’ve done it all year, and on the weekend against Maitland, they put in a positive performance. 

“They have a lot of quality across the pitch. Boys who came through the Central Coast Mariners Academy and the Newcastle Jets Academy, sprinkled with some international players and then Connor Evans and (Yuta Konagaya) who have come straight from the NPL in Sydney, which is a far superior competition to the Northern NSW NPL. On paper, they are one of the best sides. 

“When we played them in the first round, it was a really good game and we showed them a lot of respect, maybe too much, and they got the two-goal lead before we woke up and made it a really close battle in the second half. Then we went up there with a limited squad on numbers and we worked really hard to get a result.  

“We just have to be patient on Sunday. It’s no secret that we’ve struggled to score goals at times this year, but we believe in our squad. When everyone’s firing, we have enough front-third ammunition to score goals. 

“It will be a good game.” 

Matt Johnson returns from a two-game suspension for Azzurri this Sunday after he was sent off against Broadmeadow back in Round 21, but Charlestown do lose Jethro Elkington to suspension after he was booked twice in last Sunday’s loss against Magic. 

Weston will be at full strength for the minor semi-final after the side got through last Sunday’s dominant 2-0 elimination final victory against Maitland unscathed. 

“Everyone is good to go,” Jaliens said.