It may be Valentine’s Day, but there will be no love lost between traditional rivals South Melbourne FC and Heidelberg United as they kick off their National Premier Leagues (NPL) campaign in Melbourne on Friday night.
With bragging rights and early season points on the line, the clash between the two former National Soccer League foes at Lakeside Stadium is certainly fitting of its billing as the NPL Game of the Week.
In 2020, Premiers Heidelberg are aiming for an unprecedented fourth straight title in NPL Victoria – a staggering return to dominance after being relegated from the state’s top tier earlier this decade.
The club were National Premier Leagues Champions for the first time in 2017, and will be looking to again take out the national crown after falling short of the national Grand Final in the past two seasons.
George Katsakis returns as coach of the Bergers and has retained a number of key players from last year’s squad including newly appointed skipper Reuben Way as well as Shaun Ellis, Adrian Zahra, Josh Wilkins, Lewis Hall, and Harry Noon.
However, there will be a number of new faces as well with former FFV Gold Medal winning midfielder Dusan Bosnjak and defender Ajdin Fetahagic joining the Bergers, alongside interstate recruits in striker James Demetriou and defender Lachlan Barr.
Way told the hufc.com.au that he knows he must temper his fiery on-field demeanour in his new leadership role.
“It’s about using that same passion or energy or tenacity and using it for the right thing," the 30-year-old explained.
"l’ve got to be more mindful of what l am doing, so it’s just putting that to good use rather than negative and get me into trouble.”
By contrast, South Melbourne supporters are eager to see their highly decorated club return to the top of heap this season after a mid-table finishes in recent campaigns.
They are guided by head coach Esteban Quintas in the dug-out, with the club keeping faith with the Argentinian after he took over as interim coach midway through last season.
Quintas has sought to rejuvenate his squad for the season ahead with a number of signings – led by Irish youth international defender Stephen Folan from Irish top tier club Dundalk FC.
A former Newcastle United Academy prospect, Folan told SMFC TV that the team is eager to hit the ground running in 2020.
"We've worked really hard over the last couple of weeks with a game plan and how we want to impose ourselves on the game. So we are really confident and really looking forward [to the game]," he said.
Scoring less goals than any other NPL Victoria club in 2019, Hellas have also added hulking former Hyundai A-League striker Harrison Sawyer to their squad in the search of greater threat up front.
While a number of former players have returned to the club after stints away including midfielder Luke Pavlou, and former silverware winning fullback Amadu Koroma and attacker Chris Irwin.
It sets the scene for Hellas to overturn a disappointing three goal defeat against the Bergers in their regular season closing fixture last year, also played at Lakeside Stadium.
National Premier Leagues - Game of the Week
South Melbourne FC v Heidelberg United (NPL Victoria)
Friday, 14 February, 2020
Kick off: 7.30pm AEDT
Venue: Lakeside Stadium