NPL Men’s NNSW Round 21 Preview: Magpies hoping to swoop into top spot before Azzurri and Magic meet in a blockbuster match

Match of the Round 
Maitland FC v Newcastle Olympic FC  
Cooks Square Park, Saturday 2:30pm 

This weekend’s Match of the Round will be contested at Cooks Square Park where the home side will have an opportunity to go top of the table as Maitland hosts Newcastle Olympic. 

The Magpies are second on 40 points, just one behind current league-leaders Charlestown Azzurri. Azzurri don’t play their Round 21 match until Tuesday, meaning Maitland will occupy the top spot for at least three days with a win or potentially even a draw. 

While Mick Bolch’s men are focused on what’s in front of them, they cannot help but look back over their shoulder too, with two quality sides breathing down their necks.  

Third-placed Lambton Jaffas are level on 40 points with the Magpies and Broadmeadow Magic are just a point behind on 39. That means any of the teams currently positioned in the top four can finish as high as first and as low as fourth heading into the final round. 

For Bolch personally, it’s quite simple, with the Maitland coach insisting he just wants his team to focus on themselves and improve on their most recent performance. His side drew 1-1 to Cooks Hill, bringing an end to the Magpies’ 10-game winning streak.   

“Realistically, it’s not in our hands, we’re still reliant on other results,” Bolch said.  

“The Cooks Hill result was disappointing in the fact that other results went our way and if we had’ve won, we would be top of the table and it would be in our own hands. All we can try and do now is get the three points against Olympic. 

“Everyone is available, and Greeny (Damon Green) is our only concern with a bit of a groin strain. 

“Olympic beat us 3-2 in the first round and we always have tight tussles against them. They have quality across the park. Adam Pearce, their keeper, had a really good day out against us last game. 

“We have to be more clinical in the front third now, more so than what we were against them last time and what we were two weeks ago against Cooks Hill. It’s going to be about taking our chances on Saturday.” 

Olympic are the most recent team to beat Maitland. Their 3-2 victory at Darling Street Oval back in May kick-started an undefeated month of football after which they were sitting fifth on table eyeing off finals football.  

But Olympic have lost five of their past seven matches since then and have fallen out of finals contention. 

For Olympic skipper Marcus Duncan, the final two games are about playing quality football and finishing as far up the ladder as possible. 

“We want to finish as high as we can on the table. That’s the motivation, always” Duncan said. 

“The main objective is to finish the season on a high and pick up as many points as we can. 

“The boys are still in a good head space and we’ve been competitive against Maitland before. We won the reverse fixture earlier this season.  

“We’re focusing on ourselves but we are well-aware of where Maitland’s strong points are. They’ve been in great form in the back half of this season, so we’re aware of what they can do and how quickly they can punish teams, but we’re focusing how we can best go about winning on the weekend.” 

Olympic will have coach Joel Griffiths back on the sideline on Saturday as he returns from suspension for the final two games of the campaign before he moves on from the role. 

Meanwhile, Maitland and Olympic will meet in a Legends Day game prior to the first grade match on Saturday when two teams full of former premiership winners and club heroes go head-to-head.  

The match will include the likes of David Hodgson, Mathew and Trent Austin and Chris Tanchevski for Olympic, and Eugenio Cifrian, Benn Kelly, Matt Thompson and Joel Wood for Maitland. It will be refereed by Andrew Digby. 

New Lambton FC v Weston Workers FC  
Alder Park, Saturday 2:30pm 

New Lambton are intent on finishing their inaugural season in the NPLM competition on a high when they host top-five hopefuls Weston at Alder Park on Saturday. 

The Eagles will not have Tom Davies in the dugout for the game after the club announced during the week that the coach had stood down effective immediately.  

The team will be taken by technical director Clayton Zane and assistant coach Paul John for the remainder of the campaign. 

New Lambton, who are sitting 11th can still mathematically climb into 10th, albeit unlikely, will be boosted by the return of Sam Maxwell who is back from suspension for this clash. 

Weston have everything to play for on Saturday as they look to shore up fifth place on the table heading into the final round of the regular season.  

The Bears have not featured in the playoffs since 2014 when they went all the way to the grand final and a win this weekend would go a long way towards breaking that drought and could even lock it in. 

Weston are just two points clear of sixth-placed Edgeworth who are also determined to feature in the playoffs.  

While the Bears are eager to get the job done during the final two rounds to remain ahead of Edgeworth, they are also hoping to rise up the table and finish as high as possible.  

The last time Weston and New Lambton met was back in May when they produced one of the most entertaining game of the season as the Bears prevailed 5-3 at home. New Lambton are now hoping to flip the script in the reverse fixture. 

Edgeworth FC v Adamstown Rosebud FC  
Jack McLaughlan Oval, Saturday 2:30pm 

Edgeworth turn their attention back to their NPLM finals push when they host Adamstown Rosebud at Jack McLaughlan Oval on Saturday afternoon. 

The Eagles have a jam-packed schedule to finish the season, which included the Men’s State Cup Final last weekend and an Australia Cup Round of 32 clash next Wednesday.  

Coach Peter McGuinness has been challenging his men to simply focus on the next game up, and they have been responding well to that. 

Edgeworth are sitting sixth on the table and are two points outside the top five with just two rounds remaining. That makes their last two league matches must-win encounters, starting this Saturday at home against Adamstown.  

The Eagles will most likely be without two key players, after Josh Rose and Andrew Pawiak limped off early in the second stanza at Rockwell Automation Park against Broadmeadow last Saturday night.  

Both Rose and Pawiak look unlikely to return before Wednesday night’s knockout clash at home against A-League side Western United. 

Adamstown also played last weekend when they lined up against Cooks Hill United at Adamstown Oval in a rescheduled Round 13 clash where they were defeated 1-0. 

The Rosebuds are winless in four games since they knocked off Newcastle Olympic early last month and they are hoping to return to the winner’s circle this weekend. 

Adamstown’s victory over Olympic all but ended the finals hopes of their opposition, which they are now intent on doing to Edgeworth this Saturday. 

The last time these two sides met back in May was an eventful game that was won 3-2 by Edgeworth as a late Adamstown own goal gifted the Eagles three points. 

Another high-scoring close contest could be in store this weekend when two sides ready to throw everything at one another go head-to-head. 

Cooks Hill United FC v Lambton Jaffas FC  
Fearnley Dawes Athletics Field, Saturday 3pm 

One of the most intriguing battles of the weekend will take place at the Fearnley Dawes Athletics Field on Saturday when Cooks Hill United host Lambton Jaffas. 

While the Jaffas are the premiership hopefuls in this one, it is Cooks Hill that has attracted an abundance of well-deserved credit of late.  

Chris Zoricich’s men are unbeaten in their past six games, winning five and the only time they dropped points was the draw that ended Maitland’s 10-game winning streak last month. 

While most NPLM teams enjoyed a break last weekend, Cooks Hill were in action as they scored another win when they downed the Rosebud 1-0 at Adamstown Oval in a rescheduled Round 13 clash.  

A Matthew Berrigan strike in the 51st minute separated the two sides in that contest. The victory saw Cooks Hill move to 29 competition points and edge within just one point of seventh-placed Newcastle Olympic.  

Cooks Hill have now ensured that the lowest they can finish this season is eighth, which will eclipse their first season in the top flight in 2022 when they placed ninth on 18 points. 

David Tanchevski was the Cooks Hills’ coach in the 2022 season, and on Saturday he returns to Fearnley Dawes Athletics Field as the coach of a Jaffas side whose focus is on the top spot. 

Lambton are third on the table on 40 points, level with second-placed Maitland and just one point behind Charlestown Azzurri. The table leaders do not play until Tuesday, so Lambton will finish the weekend in first place if their result is greater than Maitland’s. 

The Jaffas are enjoying a red-hot run of form. They are unbeaten in their past eight games.  

But their squad depth will be tested as they are missing two key members of their spine in Josh Piddington and Pat Bond, as well as Sakeel Balfour Brown, who are all suspended.  

Bond and Sakeel will both miss the next two matches but Piddington will return for a potential crack at the premiership in the final round of the regular season. 

Lambton and Cooks Hill shared the points when they met earlier in the year in May at Arthur Edden Oval, where they drew 1-1. Another tight tussle is expected between two of the form teams of the competition on Saturday. 

Lake Macquarie City FC v Valentine FC  
Macquarie Field, Saturday 2:30pm 

Two sides who are playing for pride and are determined to finish their seasons in style will line up opposite one another at Macquarie Field on Sunday when Lake Macquarie City host Valentine. 

Valentine’s finals hopes were still alive early last month when they scored a 3-2 win away from home against Weston, but they have since lost three on the trot and can no longer finish any higher than ninth. 

Lake Macquarie remains at the foot of the table but are just five points behind 11th-placed New Lambton, who they host in the final round.  

A win this weekend would see that Round 22 clash become a wooden spoon battle and would give the Roosters a chance to finally climb off the bottom of the table.  

Lakes will be without Guilherme Evangelista Dos Santos this Sunday though, as his five-game suspension following a red card in his side’s 5-0 Round 20 loss against Weston begins. 

Valentine ran away with a comfortable 3-0 victory when these two teams last met back in May at the Hunter Sports Centre in Glendale, and they are now eyeing off a clean sweep of the Roosters in the return fixture. 

Charlestown FC v Broadmeadow Magic FC  
Lisle Carr Oval, Tuesday 8pm 

Round 21 will not wrap up until Tuesday night when Charlestown Azzurri host Broadmeadow Magic under lights at Lisle Car Oval in a premiership-defining contest. 

The game will be Charlestown’s first in 17 days since they suffered a frustrating defeat after conceding an injury time winner away from home against Lambton on July 22.  

But Magic will have played three games since during that time, including a 3-0 win in their most recent league match, a 2-0 Men’s State Cup Final victory over Edgeworth last Saturday, and then an Australia Cup Round of 32 clash on home soil against Sydney United 58 FC on Friday night. 

Charlestown are on top of the NPLM ladder with a slim one-point advantage over second-placed Maitland and third-placed Lambton. Both of those sides could potentially have leapfrogged James Pascoe’s team by the time they line up for their final home game of the regular season.  

But regardless of the other results, Azzurri will go into the final round at the top if they get the job done and pick up three points against Magic.  

The home side’s depth is going to be tested on Tuesday night. They were already without injured skipper Nigel Boogaard and will now be missing fellow former A-League player Jacob Melling for the crucial clash against Broadmeadow as he and Callum Bower are both suspended due to yellow card accumulation. 

For Broadmeadow, this game is another in a string of fixtures with so much on the line. It will be a four-day turnaround following their Australia Cup match, and they will be playing to secure a spot in the top three with one match left to play.  

Who Magic will have available for the crucial contest will be anyone’s guess at this stage.  

While coach John Bennis is hoping to have everyone on deck, captain Jeremy Wilson and Keanu Moore are currently injury concerns ahead of their Australia Cup match, and several players came away with knocks after the Men’s State Cup Final. 

The last time these two sides met was back in May when Azzurri beat Broadmeadow 3-1 at Magic Park. They will be hoping to complete a sweep on Tuesday night, but Magic will be coming in fired up to square the ledger.