NPL Men’s NNSW Round 22 Preview: Entertaining premiership race comes down to the final round with four sides in the hunt 

Match of the Round 
Lambton Jaffas FC v Newcastle Olympic FC  
Arthur Edden Oval, Sunday 2:30pm 

An enthralling premiership race has come down to the final day and it’s the Lambton Jaffas who will be in the box seat when they host Newcastle Olympic in the Match of the Round at Arthur Edden Oval on Sunday. 

David Tanchevski’s men went into the penultimate round ranked third on the table and managed to take advantage of Maitland and Charlestown’s slip-ups to climb into first.  

The Jaffas have accumulated 43 points from 21 matches following 13 wins, four draws and four losses, but only narrowly lead Broadmeadow (42), Charlestown (41) and Maitland (40), who are all lurking with intent. 

Should the Jaffas drop points, it will be a nervous wait for results from the other grounds to come through, with all Round 22 fixtures scheduled to kick off on simultaneously at 2.30pm on Sunday. 

Lambton are the form team of the competition at the moment and they have kicked into gear at the right time of the campaign. They only took one win from a five-match run midway through the season, but since then they have established a nine-game undefeated streak and have won their most recent six games. 

“We went through a run there where we had a lot of injuries and we hadn’t had a win in three or four games. Then we got a draw out of that Weston game, and we said that we weren’t going to lose any games ‘til the end of the season after that, and now we’re one game away from achieving that result,” Tanchevski said. 

“That was about nine weeks ago now. We’ve been concentrating on one week at a time with a longer end goal in mind. 

“There are still a lot of things we can improve on, but I’ve been happy with how we’ve been playing.” 

The Jaffas will receive a significant boost for Sunday’s premiership battle, with goalkeeper Ben Kennedy and centrebacks Josh Piddington and Nikolai Topor-Stanley to line up after they missed last Saturday’s 3-2 victory against Cooks Hill. 

The experienced trio’s return is timely, given that Tanchevski thought that his side gifted Cooks Hill both of their goals at the Fearnley Dawes Athletics Field. 

Lambton and Olympic produced an entertaining contest when they last met in Round 11 back in May. Olympic prevailed 3-2 at Darling Street Oval, and now Tanchevski is expecting an improved defensive display in Round 22. 

“It’s going to a be a little bit different to the last time we played them. Last time we played them, we ironically had our two centre backs out. Bondy was suspended with an accumulation of yellow cards and Piddo was sick,” Tanchevski said. 

“Our three senior guys coming back into the team this week is huge for us.  

“We know what Olympic can do. They’ve got some dangerous players up front and some really good young kids in there. Against Maitland, they showed what they can do when they’re on. 

“It’s a matter of not letting them play their game. We have to play our game, which will hopefully cancel out what they’re trying to do. 

“If we can’t get up for this game, we’ve got problems.” 

If the Jaffas didn’t already have enough to play for on Sunday, a bumper crowd is expected to turn out at Arthur Edden Oval as the club hosts their annual old boys’ day. 

But the Jaffas will line up opposite a side that has already dealt a major blow to one of the four premiership hopefuls in Newcastle Olympic.  

Joel Griffiths’ side took on Maitland at Cooks Square Park last Saturday and scored a 2-1 victory to deny the Magpies a chance to head into the final round on top. 

Skipper Marcus Duncan said last week in the build-up to his side’s clash against Maitland that their goal was to win the final two games and hopefully climb into sixth. 

Olympic have a chance to do that this Sunday after Edgeworth dropped points at home against Adamstown in Round 21 and are now just two points ahead of the boys in blue. 

Olympic will also be hoping to farewell coach Joel Griffiths in style as he takes the reins over the club for the final time in the NPLM competition in Round 22. 

Broadmeadow Magic FC v Valentine FC  
Magic Park, Sunday 2:30pm 

Broadmeadow Magic have everything to play for when they line up in their fourth game in 15 days when they host Valentine at Magic Park on Sunday afternoon. 

Magic are second heading into the final round and are breathing down the neck of top-ranked side Lambton, waiting to pounce on a Jaffas slip-up. 

A whirlwind 10 days of football, which included a 2-0 Men’s State Cup Final victory against Edgeworth and a 4-2 Australia Cup Round of 32 defeat in entertaining fashion against Sydney United 58 FC, wrapped up in style for Broadmeadow on Tuesday night when John Bennis’ men scored a crucial 2-0 victory against Charlestown at Lisle Carr Oval.  

Magic went into the mid-week match ranked fourth, and their second-placed opponents Charlestown had the ascendency for the majority of the first half of the Round 21 clash.  

Magic held out Azzurri to earn a 2-0 win and claim three valuable points that saw them rise to second place on 42 points. They left Charlestown (41) and Maitland (40) behind, and now trail ladder leaders Lambton (43) by just one point. 

Bennis said that it was too soon to tell who would be available for Sunday’s clash against Valentine, with several players picking up knocks in their three recent matches. That included skipper Jeremy Wilson who was an unused substitute on Tuesday night. 

One player who will definitely be available is the side’s leading goal-scorer Riley Smith, who returns from suspension on Sunday after missing Tuesday night’s game following his first-half send off in the Australia Cup contest. 

Valentine also played a mid-week game after their Round 21 clash away from home against Lake Macquarie City last Sunday was washed out and postponed. The two sides played the catch-up game at the Lake Macquarie Regional Football Facility in Speers Point last night, where Valentine prevailed 2-1 after the score was locked 0-0 at half-time.  

Valentine cannot finish any higher or lower than ninth, but are focused on finishing their season on a high and earning their eighth win of the year. 

A high-scoring match unfolded when Magic and Valentine last met back in May as Broadmeadow outscored the Phoenix 5-2 at Glendale’s Hunter Sports Centre. While it’s unlikely there will be seven goals scored at Magic Park this Sunday, the two teams will come out with the same attacking intent. 

Edgeworth FC v Charlestown Azzurri FC  
Jack McLaughlan Oval, Sunday 2:30pm 

Edgeworth may be out of the finals picture but they will leave nothing in the tank as they look to secure sixth spot on Sunday when they host premiership hopefuls Charlestown at Jack McLaughlan Oval. 

The Eagles needed to win their Round 21 game last Saturday to remain a chance of making the top five, but a 1-1 draw at home against Adamstown crushed those hopes as they fell four points behind Weston.  

The Eagles then put in a gutsy and courageous effort on Wednesday night on home soil where they went down 4-0 against A-League side Western United in their Australia Cup Round of 32 clash. 

They were missing some key troops in that knockout game, with Josh Rose, Dylan Holz, Sascha Montefiore and Nick Curran among those who did not take the field, and coach Peter McGuinness is expecting a similar side to line up on Sunday. 

“I don’t think our team will change much from what we had last night,” McGuinness said. 

“It depends on how Andrew (Pawiak) pulls up with his ankle and if Rosey (Josh Rose) recovers any more. 

“It will be very similar. 

“After the game last night, we had a chat, and we spoke about the fact that we want to finish on a win. We want to be playing for the finals and in the finals, but that’s neither here nor there now after our slip-up last week. The boys are very focused now on making sure we finish with a win.” 

Charlestown went into Round 21 on top of the table but were overtaken by Lambton Jaffas on Saturday. Azzurri had a chance to reclaim first place when they hosted Broadmeadow Magic at Lisle Carr Oval on Tuesday night, but Magic won 2-0 after the visitors scored two goals in two minutes late in the first half.  

James Pascoe’s men had enough chances to win the game but just could not put any away. 

They must now win in the final round to get back on top, but they will need Lambton and Magic to drop points. 

Charlestown will be without key defenders Nigel Boogaard (injured), Callum Bower and Jethro Elkington (both suspended) for Sunday’s clash, while Matthew Johnson is also unavailable after he was sent off late during the loss against Broadmeadow on Tuesday night.  

Azzurri’s goalkeeper Nathan Archbold is also unavailable as he is overseas on his honeymoon for the remainder of the season. 

Azzurri do get one key player back for Sunday’s important fixture as Jacob Melling returns from suspension. 

A close contest is expected in this one on Sunday, and if the two sides’ 1-1 draw at Lisle Carr Oval back in May is anything to go by, that’s what is likely to unfold. 

Lake Macquarie City FC v New Lambton FC  
Macquarie Field, Sunday 2:30pm 

Sunday’s fixture at Macquarie Field between Lake Macquarie City and New Lambton seemed destined to become a thrilling encounter where the winner would avoid bottom spot and the loser would finish in the dreaded 12th place. 

With an intriguing premiership battle taking place at the other end of the ladder, it would have added to the hype around an already exciting weekend of football.  

Lake Macquarie City took on Valentine at the Lake Macquarie Regional Football Facility in Speers Point and they hit the lead in the second stanza, only to be run down and lose 2-1. 

Lakes went into that match five points behind their Round 22 opponents, and a win would have seen them close that gap to two points, with the potential to then climb off the bottom of the table this Sunday. But they now remain five points back from New Lambton and will simply play for pride in the final round.  

Both Lakes and New Lambton are hoping to finish their season on an encouraging note and take some confidence into the pre-season and the 2024 campaign. 

New Lambton won 3-0 when they met back in May, but a Lake Macquarie side that went close to earning their second win of the season last night are now focused on reversing that result and going out with a bang. 

Cooks Hill United FC v Weston Workers FC  
Fearnley Dawes Athletics Field, Sunday 2:30pm 

Two clubs on the way up will go head-to-head on Sunday when Cooks Hill United challenges Weston at the Fearnley Dawes Athletics Field. 

This year has been a memorable one for Weston as they have qualified for the finals for the first time since 2014. They are sitting fifth on the table and can finish as high as second with a win this weekend.  

But even if the Bears get a win and other results don’t go their way and they remain fifth, it would still help them by taking some crucial momentum into the knockout rounds. 

Cooks Hill United have been one of the entertainers during the second half of the season but their impressive six-game undefeated streak came to an end on Saturday when they were downed 3-2 by Lambton Jaffas. 

Cooks Hill won five matches, claiming some major scalps in Charlestown and Edgeworth, and they are now eyeing off their ninth win of the campaign as they plot to take down another top-five team. 

Weston won 3-1 on home soil when these teams last met back in May. A late Liam Spurway goal got Cooks Hill on the board, but Chris Hurley’s opener and a Cooper Buswell double had already done the damage. 

Jaliens was pleased with the way his side controlled the game that day, but this time around they will line up opposite an improved and fast-finishing Cooks Hill side that are determined to go out with a win. 

Adamstown Rosebud FC v Maitland FC  
Adamstown Oval, Sunday 2:30pm 

Maitland have a chance to recapture some form heading into the finals and also climb the table when they travel to Adamstown Oval to meet the Rosebuds on Sunday. 

The Magpies enter the final round in fourth place after missing out on two chances to go top in their most recent two matches.  

A 10-game win streak had propelled the defending premiers up the table to give them a chance to finish on top again after they claimed first place in 2022. But a 1-1 draw against Cooks Hill and a 2-1 loss against Olympic have seen them fall three points behind ladder leaders, the Lambton Jaffas, with just a game to go. 

The Magpies have accumulated 40 points following 12 wins, four draws and five losses this year and are right up there behind Lambton (43), Broadmeadow (42) and Charlestown (41). The final-round results will determine exactly where those four teams end up on the table, but Maitland are simply focused on what is in front of them and winning their game. 

Adamstown will finish 10th regardless of Sunday’s results, and like every team in the competition, their intent is to finish the regular season with a win.  

Rosebud were beaten convincingly by Maitland earlier in the season when the Magpies kicked off their 10-game winning run with a 5-0 win against the Rosebud at Cooks Square Park. Now Adamstown are looking to produce a far better showing in their final game of the year.