Football West held its joint NPLWA season launch this week.
The launch for the men's and women's seasons was held at Bayswater City's Frank Drago Reserve, with all 20 clubs from the two competitions well represented.
A fantastic night included conversations with new Perth Glory NPL coach Ruben Zadkovich, Perth Soccer Club's Irish recruit Kerrie Ryan and last year's Gold Medal winners - Dean Evans and Giordano Colli from the men's competition and Katarina Jukic from the women's.
The NPLWA - Women's competition is still two weeks away and they continue their Night Series with the semi-finals this Saturday at Wormall Civil Stadium. Holders Fremantle City take on Balcatta and Perth SC face Murdoch University Melville.
But for the men it is the start of the league season, with five matches scheduled for Saturday and one 24 hours later.
The match on Sunday sees ECU Joondalup begin their NPL WA title defence when they travel to the Croatian Sporting Complex to face Gwelup Croatia.
Last season ECU won their first league title since 1999 after a dramatic final day which saw them defeat northern rivals Sorrento 4-0 and closest contenders Floreat slip up at home to Cockburn to spark the emotional scenes.
That championship charge was led by head coach Kenny Lowe in his maiden season at the club. Under his guidance ECU lost just one of their final 10 league games.
But after reflecting on the achievements of 2020, the former Perth Glory manager insists that attention has now turned to this campaign.
"We start again now. The focus for us is what can we do this year to retain it (the title)," Lowe said.
"We don't want to sit back and rest on our laurels, accept it and think last season was the pinnacle.
"We want to grow and that is our focus, to improve the players again, the attacking, midfield and defensive units and the team overall.
"There's a lot of young lads here who aspire to grow to a better level, whether it is an established NPL player or a younger player, and if we can help do that it means we have good players, which means we'll win games and hopefully win titles."
Representatives of the 12 NPLWA - Men's teams at this week's season launch. Photo by Football West/FotoEnzo
Headline additions such as the returning Daryl Nicol and ex-Glory A-League star Chris Harold have strengthened ECU once again, despite a few departures which include Luke Bodnar, Callum Timmins and Riley Warland.
Cousins Nelson and Jeremy Tshongo also join the Jacks and Lowe says the fresh signings will boost the playing group as they ahead look a challenging season opener with Gwelup.
"It's always good to add new faces to change the dynamic and bring different attributes on and off the field. We've got some chirpy boys in our squad, but it's also nice to add good players who will raise the bar again," he said.
"Gwelup are one of the benchmarks. They have one of the best squads in the league and are a good club with good players. I am expecting a tough game on the weekend and for them to be one of the teams pushing for the title among a couple of other clubs."
Gwelup, meanwhile, will enter their second NPL WA season full of confidence after an encouraging first year which saw them narrowly miss out on a finals spot.
Taki Nicolaidis' side had a mixed Night Series, which included a 7-0 win over Sunday's opponents who were without nearly all of their first team. Regardless of what has happened before, he is relishing the prospect of facing the holders so early in the season.
"From my point of view there's no better time to play the champions than in Round One. Everyone is fresh and gearing up to put in a big performance and we're no different," Nicolaidis said.
"I'd rather play a tough game first up because it could potentially set the tone for us. These types of games where we hopefully have a big crowd can be a great platform for our squad to put our best foot forward and to try and get a result.
"We've recruited well and are in a good position squad-wise. Most players are healthy and our pre-season form hasn't been too bad, without us hitting the heights at the moment. But there's room for improvement and plenty of upside to take from what we've done so far."
Sunday's clash at Gwelup will wrap up an intriguing Round One of the NPL WA - Men's competition, which also sees Night Series winners Inglewood United travel to Armadale SC among five fixtures on Saturday.
Goals from Robert Petkov and Scott Blackmore gave United their first silverware in 16 years as they defeated Perth SC 2-0 last weekend. The Azzurri will look to bounce back from a first loss of pre-season in a home game with Perth Glory at Dorrien Gardens.
Having won silverware in four of the previous five campaigns, last year's post-season winner Floreat Athena will aim to add another trophy to the cabinet in 2021. They host Balcatta at E&D Litis Stadium, who ended last season with three wins in their final four games.
There's also a clash between two top six sides from 2020 as Cockburn host Sorrento while Bayswater and Rockingham face off with new head coaches Gareth Naven and Goran Stajic in the dugout.
The full round of games will be livestreamed on Football West's Facebook and YouTube pages.
- Because of the hot weather forecast for Saturday, a number of kick-off times have changed.
NPLWA - Men's Round One (Time in AWST)
Inglewood United vs. Armadale (4pm)
Cockburn City vs. Sorrento (3pm)
Perth SC vs. Perth Glory (7pm)
Floreat Athena vs. Balcatta (7pm)
Bayswater City vs. Rockingham City (5.30pm)
Gwelup Croatia vs. ECU Joondalup (3pm)