Photo Pedro Garcia


The long-awaited Illawarra Premier League season launches on Friday night with Cringila hosting the Albion Park White Eagles.

The COVID-19 delay has seen the competition reduced to an 11-round affair making each match all the more important as teams tussle it out for a place in the top five.

The IPL welcomes Bellambi back for the first time since 2015 with the Rosellas replacing relegated Fernhill.

Albion Park White Eagles

Last season: 2nd, 13 wins, 4 draws, 5 losses, 43 points

Opening month: Cringila Lions (A), Bellambi Rosellas (H), South Coast United (A), Port Kembla (A)

Cups: Fraternity Cup (group stage), Bert Bampton Cup (quarter-finals)

Albion Park have been bundled out of the final series for two seasons running leading to a shake-up in the dugout with the club appointing a new coach in Jason Davkovski.

The former Corrimal co-coach has brought in plenty of fresh faces including Wollongong Wolves attacker Jordan Nikolovski, Wollongong Olympic skipper Brendan Fordham and Wollongong United midfielder Jake Leighton. 

The club has also retained striker Cameron Morgan on the back of his stellar 21-goal season while captain Chris Nathaniel, Joel Beattie and young gun Cody Wehmeyer remain at Terry Reserve.

Shannon Fielding, Blake McGinn and goalkeeper Brad Jardine are the main departures with the club bringing in Blake Coad to fill the void between the sticks. 

The White Eagles were underwhelming in the initial preseason and since the restart, their form hasn’t really improved, falling out of the Bert Bampton Cup to newly-promoted Bellambi.

The squad says top five with ease, but the performances so far haven’t.

Prediction: 6th

Bellambi Rosellas

Last season: 1st (District League), 18 wins, 3 draws, 1 loss, 57 points

Opening month: Port Kembla (H), Albion Park White Eagles (A), Cringila Lions (A), Woonona Sharks (H)

Cups: Fraternity Cup (group stage), Bert Bampton Cup (semi-finals*)

There is plenty for neutrals to be excited about upon Bellambi’s return to the top flight.

Andrew Paine ended the Rosellas four-season stay in the District League in just his second year as a head coach and he’s assembled a side capable of causing a few upsets if Bert Bampton Cup wins over Wollongong Olympic and Albion Park are anything to go by.

Many of the older bodies have departed the club including inspirational captain Tor Preece and goal-getter Ilija Prenzoski but in their place, Paine has made some quality signings including 2016 grand final-winning pair Vaughan Patterson and Bryce Daenell.

Liam Unicomb has been brought in to play upfront with the ex-Tarranna and South Coast United player to be flanked by Cody Cuthbertson and Brad Watts who have been tormenting District League fullbacks with Helensburgh for the last few seasons.

The top five isn’t beyond reach but they will need to come out with all guns blazing.

Prediction: 8th


Last season: 8th, 6 wins, 6 draws, 10 losses, 24 points

Opening month: Woonona Sharks (H), Coniston (A), Port Kembla (H), Wollongong Olympic (H)

Cups: Fraternity Cup (group stage), Bert Bampton Cup (semi-finals*)

The most blue-eyed Bulli supporter will point to their Bert Bampton Cup win, however, 2019 was a relative disaster for the IPL giants.

The back-to-back league champions and reigning premiers produced the worst title defence this century and since the club has parted ways with head coach Matt Bailey as well as vital cogs in playmaker Mitch Del Turco, centreback Kenji Takahashi and goalkeeper Yuya Kuwada.

Julio Miranda steps into the hot seat and despite the turnover, he looks to have put together a side ready to contend for the top five.

Right-sided Japanese pair Seiya Kambayashi and Takumu Tsujimura look a handful going forward while Bulli’s other visa spot has been filled by Filipino international defender Ian Clarino.

Luke Van Zyl also steps up to the IPL after impressing with Helensburgh while one of Ben McGinnes or Daniel Farina will have to fill Kawada’s sizable gloves.

Ben McDonald and Sam Davies will co-captain the side with both looking solid since the restart.Bulli are back, not 2018 back, but they should play finals football back.

Prediction: 3rd


Last season: 9th, 6 wins, 4 draws, 12 losses, 22 points

Opening month: South Coast United (A), Bulli (H), Tarrawanna Blueys (H), Cringila Lions (A)

Cups: Fraternity Cup (runners-up), Bert Bampton Cup (quarter-finals*)

It took Coniston until Sunday’s Fraternity Club Cup final to lose a game in 2020, however, the side still has shown plenty of promise heading into round one.

Jeff Allport remains at the helm for a second season and he has managed to keep much of the same squad that comfortably avoided relegation during the club’s return to the top flight.

Dinko Terzic is the main out for Coniston, though the club have picked up a couple of intriguing forwards in former Wolves junior Brett Wilson and Japanese speedster Tomohito Fujieda.

Captain Franc Pierro, goalkeeper Blake Horton and defender Takayuki Kayano will be key points of experience in a side featuring an abundance of youth with Matt Tschentscher, Connor O’Neill and Travis Anderson just some of the names to keep an eye on. 

Coniston are good enough to make the top five as long as their group of youngsters don’t drop the ball over one or two negative results.

Prediction: 5th

Corrimal Rangers

Last season: 3rd, 12 wins, 5 draws, 5 losses, 41 points

Opening month: Tarrawanna Blueys (A), Port Kembla (H), Wollongong Olympic (A), Wollongong United (H)

Cups: Fraternity Cup (group stage), Bert Bampton Cup (round 3)

Corrimal were the fairytale story of 2019, breaking a 46-year wait to lift the coveted grand final trophy.

Only five players have departed from that grand final-winning side but they include the likes of goalkeeper Nic Loe and Japanese duo Banri Kanaizumi and Tomoki Wada while Ben Zucco, who was suspended for the big dance, has also left.

Coach Rob Jonovski hasn’t nailed down a replacement for Loe after releasing Michael Figueira but he has picked up Rick Goodchild and Jake Morlando from local rivals Tarrawanna.

Reigning George Naylor Medalist Van Elia remains at Memorial Park after flirting with a move to the NPL and his presence is key for the Rangers going forward.

Despite outside murmurs of retirement, Alvin Ceccoli, who turns 46 next month, is also set for another season as a Ranger.

Corrimal’s form hasn’t been encouraging since the restart, with the side knocked out of the Bert Bampton Cup by Coniston before a 1-1 friendly draw with Unanderra on Saturday.

The quality is there for Corrimal to challenge for more silverware but they need to find a goalkeeper and keep Elia fit.

Prediction: 4th

Cringila Lions

Last season: 11th, 4 wins, 3 draws, 15 losses, 15 points

Opening month: Albion Park White Eagles (H), Woonona Sharks (A), Bellambi Rosellas (H), Coniston (A)

Cups: Fraternity Cup (group stage), Bert Bampton Cup (semi-finals*)

Cringila have stolen almost all the headlines since the restart with big 4-1 wins over Tarrawanna and Woonona on the way to the final four of the Bert Bampton Cup.

Both wins featured goals from star recruit Peter Simonoski who joined the Lions after Sutherland pulled out the NPL 1 this season.

Simonoski partners seasoned IPL goalscorer Nuno Pires to make for arguably the best attack in the league while Tobias Norval will add a bit of spark in midfield, with the former St George player scoring a hat-trick against the Sharks on the weekend.

Expect coach Stuart Beedie to set the side up at the back and let those three cause havoc in the final third.

If Beedie’s best 11 stay on the park, there’s a real chance Cringila will play in the finals for the first time since 2008.

Prediction: 7th

Port Kembla

Last season: 7th, 9 wins, 4 draws, 9 losses, 31 points

Opening month: Bellambi Rosellas (A), Corrimal Rangers (A), Bulli (A), Albion Park White Eagles (H)

Cups: Fraternity Cup (group stage), Bert Bampton Cup (round 3)

It’s hard to know what to expect out of Port Kembla.

Steven Dimitrievski’s side probably deserved a draw in a trial against Wollongong Olympic but the side’s last two fixtures have been multiple-goal defeats to the White Eagles and South Coast United.

Port have lost a bit of experience in William Mobbs, Fabian Iacovelli and Karouna Micheal while they will also miss the goals of Sandy Lowcock who has joined South Coast Flame.

Lowcock scored 13 goals last season and his departure has left a huge question mark over who is going to put the ball in the back of the net with the club’s next top scorer, Brad Acev, managing just five goals in 21 matches in 2019.

Chilean Orlando Patrico may prove to be a handy addition at centreback while youngster Justin Mitrevski will get a chance in goals.

It could be a tough season for the top flight’s most successful club.

Prediction: 11th 

Tarrawanna Blueys

Last season: 5th, 11 wins, 3 draws, 8 losses

Opening month: Corrimal Rangers (H), Wollongong United (H), Coniston (A), South Coast United  (A)

Cups: Fraternity Cup (group stage), Bert Bampton Cup (round 3)

Tarrawanna have been holding on to a finals sport for three years now but time looks to be up for the Blueys.

Peter Willis has lost a whole host of senior figures including Jake Morlando, Sam Munro, Michael Robinson and Corey Horner, however, the biggest loss is their talismanic skipper Rick Goodchild who has moved across the Princes Highway to Memorial Park.

The Blueys have signed the likes of Chris Gibson and Kyle Kirkland, though, Willis looks ready to give the club’s group of talented youngsters a run in the top grade with Ben Learmonth and Nick Tomasiello arguably the pick of the bunch. 

Mitchell Ferraro has gained the captaincy at just 23, while the experience in the side will be concentrated at the back with the likes of Matt Naylor, Dan Chapman and Adam Rodriguez while the seasoned Darren Stone has featured just once since the restart.

This side could be really good if they stick together but 2020 won’t be their year.

Prediction: 9th

South Coast United

Last season: 10th, 4 wins, 9 draws, 9 losses, 21 points

Opening month: Coniston (H), Wollongong Olympic (A), Albion Park White Eagles (H), Tarrawanna Blueys (H)

Cups: Fraternity Cup (group stage), Bert Bampton Cup (round 3)

South Coast United shocked everyone by going the entire second half of last season undefeated, however, their slow start meant the club finished in 10th spot. 

United have lost a few veterans to retirement with noted goalscorer Chris Smith hanging up the boots alongside club legends Mate Nimac, Tomi Skara and David Valic.

Player-coach Greg Valic wasn’t going to find a like-for-like replacement for Smith, but he has brought Jamie Wakeling back to the club where he made his debut way back in 2013. 

He has also re-signed skilful young gun Ivan Bratjanscak while Sydney United junior Anthony Pedavoli looks to be a tidy operator.

Andrew Bova is a smart pickup from South Coast Flame with the ball-winning midfielder likely to pair up with Kolan Hemda in the middle of the park.

United have also kept hold of former South Korean international Byung-kuk Cho who will be a key figure at the back. 

South Coast underwhelmed against Woonona in the third round of the Bert Bampton Cup but a 3-1 win against Port Kembla last time out indicates the side will be competitive.

They are still behind a few teams in the finals chase.

Prediction: 10th

Wollongong Olympic

Last season: 1st, 16 wins, 3 draws, 3 losses, 51 points

Opening month: Wollongong United (A), South Coast United (H), Corrimal Rangers (H), Bulli (A)

Cups: Fraternity Cup (group stage), Bert Bampton Cup (round 3)

It took 25 years for Wollongong Olympic to recapture the league title, however, limp defeats in the Bert Bampton Cup final and IPL grand final left a sour taste on an otherwise successful 2019.

George Antoniou has lost a lot of star power including club captain Brendan Fordham and golden glove Hayden Durose who have joined Albion Park and the Wollongong Wolves respectively. 

Vaughan Patterson and Julian Minutillo are also on the list of outs, as are Japanese trio Yusuke Ueda, Ikumi Saito and Kojiro Hori.

Ueda, who scored more than 100 goals in four seasons at the PCYC, will be massive boots to fill, however, the club has managed to attract J.League veteran Yu Hasegawa who has found the back of the net in two trial matches so far.

Olympic have also secured James Baldacchino from Marconi and Corey Haines-Grose from Woonona while the club is also set to sign former Wolves captain Justin Pasfield to replace Durose.

Jack Keating and Mark Every are still on the books which combined with Baldacchino and Pasfield, should make Olympic a tough team to get through.

Prediction: 2nd

Wollongong United

Last season: 4th, 11 wins, 4 draws, 7 losses, 37 points

Opening month: Wollongong Olympic (H), Tarrawanna Blueys (A), Woonona Sharks (H), Corrimal Rangers (A)

Cups: Fraternity Cup (winners), Bert Bampton Cup (quarter-finals*)

For the fourth time in five seasons, Wollongong United go into round one with the Fraternity Club Cup nestled in their trophy cabinet. 

In seasons past this hasn’t led to ongoing success, apart from a grand final appearance in 2018, but nevertheless, Oliver Vrtkovski’s side still deserve to be considered the team to beat.

The Macedonia Park-based club have lost a few key names including forward Matthew McNab and goalkeeper Sam Nastic, but despite this, they still boast the strongest squad in the league.

United have acquired two new Japanese players in Mitsuo Yamada and Seiji Kawakami with both players offering experience in the Japanese lower leagues while to replace Nastic, United have picked up Jordan Nikolovski who claimed the Scott Chipperfield Medal for the club in the 2015 grand final.

The incomings will lineup alongside the likes of skipper James O’Rourke, Billy Tsovolos and Hikaru Kawasakiya to form a formidable side.

Prediction: 1st

Woonona Sharks

Last season: 6th, 10 wins, 5 draws, 7 losses, 35 points

Opening month: Bulli (A), Cringila Lions (H), Wollongong United (A), Bellambi (A)

Cups: Fraternity Cup (group stage), Bert Bampton Cup (quarter-finals)

Woonona nearly celebrated their 130th anniversary with a finals birth in 2019, however, a repeat of last year’s effort looks to be off the cards.

The club has hemorrhaged players with Chris Gibson, Ben Wunsch, Corey Haines-Grose and Kota Odakura just some of the big names to leave Ocean Park.

Brendan Pattman returns to the club after a year with Bulli and he will be an important player along with the likes of Tomohiro Ishii, Tyler Bromham-Fuller and Jai Mellor. 

With relegation off the table this season, expect coach Dan McGoldrick to have no qualms with giving youngsters such as Taro Regan-Williams and Damien Grew significant minutes in the first team.

The Sharks are an outside chance of avoiding the wooden spoon.

Prediction: 12th

* still in the competition

Preview by Dylan Arvela, on Twitter @dylanarvela

Photo by Pedro Garcia


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