The National Premier Leagues are back for 2021 and our first Match of the Week takes us to the always hotly contested battleground of NPL New South Wales’ opening night.
Cromer Park in Sydney’s Northern Beaches will be the setting on Friday night as Manly United welcome Mt Druitt Town Rangers in the battle for the first three points of the campaign.
Following a COVID-interrupted 2020, both Manly and Rangers will be eager to make a flying start to the season after finishing last year's abridged season in the bottom half of the standings.
Adding intrigue to the clash is the strong recruitment over the summer from both clubs – with Rangers’ securing former A-League legend Tarek Elrich as one of the highest profile gets of the off-season for any club.
However, the former Socceroo is not the only player set to add much-needed spark for the Rangers this season after they limped home in 2020 with just two points from their final six matches.
Japanese attacking duo Takumu Tsujimura and Fumoto Kamada are promising an addition of flair in the final third, and will be assisted by winger George Tuson-Firt, who returns home from England.
Former A-League defender Marc Warren adds spine to the defence after being lured from Sutherland Sharks, while key players Carlos Saliadarre, Travis Oughtred, Solomon-Johnn Monahan-Vaiika, John Roberts and Jack Stewart are among the returning faces.
The great unknown for the Rangers’ will be how the team comes together following a big change on the coach’s bench announced earlier this week – with long-serving Technical Director Stewart Montgomery taking the reins after the club parted ways with Franco Cosentino.
By contrast, it is largely business as usual for Manly as former A-League star Adam Griffiths rolls into his second season as coach with a continued emphasis on youth development.
Former Sydney FC Youth striker Benjamin Koop joins to give Manly further firepower up front, while Japanese import Seiya Kambayashi provides Griffiths with defensive cover.
Griffiths will call upon a number of familiar faces with Dylan Mitchell, Kieren Paull, Sam Gallagher, Dom Ferguson, Scott Balderson, Dejan Pandurevic, James Oates, Richie Cardozo, Luca Kmet and Joe Fox all re-signing at the club.
Supporters will be hoping lessons have been learned from prior campaigns with Manly falling short in their opening round fixtures in recent seasons - last winning a Round 1 clash in 2017.
Coincidentally, 2017 was also the last season Manly lifted NPL New South Wales silverware, following a dramatic penalty shoot-out victory in that year’s Grand Final against APIA Leichhardt.
Manly and Rangers met just once last season due to the shortened season, with Manly claiming the spoils 1-0 on their home patch on the back of a Pandurevic goal.
Manly United v Mt Druitt Town Rangers
Friday, 26 February 2021
Venue: Cromer Park
Kick-off: 7:00PM (AEDT)
VICTORIA: Westfield Matildas legend Barbieri links with Hellas
QUEENSLAND: NPL Queensland 2021 draws revealed