NPL season preview – Sparrow and Jennings relish second top flight campaign

New Joondalup United captain Matty Sparrow is looking forward to a challenging season in the National Premier League (NPL), which gets underway this weekend.

The vastly experienced midfielder knows that there will be a battle to survive in the top flight with three sides set to be relegated back to the State League, but Sparrow is aiming higher than 2017’s tenth place finish.

“The NPL is quite an open league really, we started off well last season but faded towards the end so we want to learn from that and hopefully we can be better this time,” he says.

“In the first 10 or 12 games last season no one expected us to come out and play as we did but obviously they know a bit more about us ahead of the second season in the NPL.

“We’ve got to all play to our capabilities, both individually and as a team, to get some points on the board early with three teams going down but we want to be looking at the top half of the table.”

Sparrow, who played over 400 professional games for Scunthorpe United and Brighton & Hove Albion, takes the armband from Arran Maplestone who departed for Bayswater City.

JUFC have also had to deal with the loss of 2017’s top scorer Richard Howles and Player of the Year Josh Whitmore following their moves to Perth SC and ECU Joondalup respectively.

In their place have come the likes of ex-Benfica Academy defender Fraser Garnaut, exciting forwards Elliot Tattersall and Parviz Shizadi, and defensive duo John Chalmers and Greg Pellow who have returned to JUFC having won the State League title with Western Knights last season.

“I can’t wait to get started, we’ve had a good preseason of six to eight weeks hard and all the lads are raring to go,” says Sparrow.

“There’s always going to be a turn around of players; we’ve lost a few but we’ve also gained a few good youngsters.

“We’re in good shape and it’s a good blend so far. Hopefully I can use my experience, along with Ross Edwards and James Bosdet, and we’ve got a few old boys in the team to help the young lads.”

First team coach Nick Jennings has worked hard in the offseason to bolster his squad, and he had no hesitation in handing first team contracts to teenagers Sam Wynne, Danny O’Shea and Jai Rawling.

“The offseason has seen a big overhaul of the playing group, with plenty of new faces arriving,” says Jennings, who will be assisted by Steve Flint and Rudy Proctor.

“We’ve recruited a number of young, quick and hungry players who in the main have had limited exposure to NPL first team football; these boys have quickly gelled together and have bought into the JUFC ethos.

“Something I firmly believe in is giving opportunities to individuals and age certainly is no barrier”

Overall, Jennings was pleased with the team’s preseason programme, though the loss to Subiaco AFC in the Night Series was a major disappointment.

However, wins over the likes of Forrestfield United and Gwelup Croatia has given confidence to a squad that has bonded well over the past couple of months.

“I am under no illusion that we will have to hit the ground running and the first four or five games could set the tempo for our season,” says Jennings.

“With five or six sides in the league throwing silly money around no doubt you will see the usual suspects at the top of the ladder, the remaining sides will be in a real dogfight with very little setting us all apart.”

Jennings believes that the decision to relegate three sides is excessive but also has faith in the players at his disposal to ensure that JUFC

“I believe we have enough quality to survive the second season syndrome and providing our work ethic is high throughout, then we are certainly capable of upsetting some of these big clubs like we did last year,” he says.

“The big kick off this weekend is fast approaching we’ll do a bit of fine tuning on the training ground to prepare for Armadale, but the whole squad is up and about and eagerly anticipating the first of many six pointers this year.”

JUFC head to Armadale SC on Saturday to open the season, with further away games to follow against Bayswater City and Perth Glory.

The first home game is against Subiaco AFC at Percy Doyle Reserve on Saturday, March 17.

JUFC first team squad and fixtures 2018

1. James Bosdet
2. John Chalmers
3. Fraser Garnaut
4. Danny O’Shea
5. Joel Ledsham
6. Sam Wynne
7. Matthew Sparrow (c)
8. Jason Marsden
9. Alex Wild
10. Elliot Tattersall
11. Tony Taylor
14. Jai Rawling
15. Callum Stocks
16. Ross Edwards
17. Luke Serra
19. Adam Buckley
21 Luke Green
22. Parviz Shizadi
23. Jake Benson-Cooper
25. Greg Pellow