2020 Illawarra District League Season Preview

Round one of the Illawarra District League kicks off this Saturday following a 304-day wait from the leagues last competitive fixture.

The COVID-19 delay has seen the competition altered to just an 11-round season. Each team will play each other once, making every contest even more crucial for the race for a finals spot.

2019 Premiers Bellambi have been promoted as the Fernhill Foxes return to the league following two seasons in the top division.

Balgownie Rangers

Last Season: 9th, 4 wins, 8 draws, 10 losses, 20 points

Opening month: Oak Flats (A), Thirroul (H), Kiama (A)

Cups: Fraternity Cup (group stage), Bert Bampton Cup (round 1)

Balgownie go into the shortened season with a similar squad to 2019.

A few pick-ups in and around the midfield with Tom Shannon returning to the Rangers from a year away at University.

Sebastian Dallas continues to lead the way up-top along with rising forward Deniz Tan who picked up five goals in 12 outings in youth grade and eight goals in 16 games in reserve grade last season.

Should Balgownie wish to be pushing away from the bottom of the pack this year, finishing out games is a must. The Rangers ended with eight draws in the competition, the most out of any team.

Prediction: 10th


Berkeley Sports FC

Last Season: 12th, 0 wins, 3 draws, 19 losses, 3 points

Opening month: Thirroul (A), Picton (H), Helensburgh (A)

Cups: Fraternity Cup (group stage), Bert Bampton Cup (round 1)

The Goats’ disaster of a 2019 season is behind them as they aim for their first league win in almost two years.

Some strong pre-season games should build some confidence in the Berkeley camp with only a couple of narrow losses to credible teams throughout the Fraternity and Bert Bampton Cups.

One goal defeats to Fernhill, University and Unanderra shows that they aren’t a team to be written off too early.

Daniel Pivovarski and Joey Thomas lead the Goats attack looking to improve on the league’s lowest goal-scoring tally in 2019 when they managed just 13 goals in the 22 games.

The opening month may be a test for the Goats and a point out of at least one of their games may boost their morale throughout the season.

Prediction: 12th


Fernhill FC

Last Season: (IPL) 12th, 3 wins, four draws, 15 losses, 13 points

Opening month: Kiama (H), Helensburgh (A), Thirroul (H)

Cups: Fraternity Cup (quarter-finals), Bert Bampton Cup (round 2)

Fernhill return to the District league following two seasons in the top flight.

Rookie coach, Dale White has put together a similar line-up to last year’s District League premiers Bellambi with majority of the side choosing to stay in the second division.

Illawarra football veterans Ilija Prenzoski, Nathan Thompson and Scott Muilwyk lead the pack for the Foxes as well as new additions in Nelson McLeod and Trent Worthington from University and Woonona respectively boosting their chances for a strong season.

A Bert Bampton Cup loss to Helensburgh asked questions for the Foxes in 2020 but a replay in round two could be an interesting match-up to see just how dominant Fernhill may be back in the IDL.

Although with the experience across the majority of Fernhill’s squad, will see them pushing to be the best.

Prediction: 4th


Helensburgh Thistle

Last Season: 2nd, 16 wins, 3 draws, 3 losses, 57 points

Opening month: Warilla (A), Fernhill (H), Berkeley (H)

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

Brad Boardman’s men will be looking to force another finals run after sitting in the top five for the last three years.

The Thistle have suffered some big losses to their squad with Luke Van Zyl going to Bulli and Brad Watts and Cody Cuthbertson joining Bellambi seeking their opportunities in the top division.

Although Boardman has found some significant replacements for his side, picking up Japanese recruit Hikaru Torigoe, former Tarrawanna man Reece McAlpine and sticking with impressive youngster Kade Kinsella who picked up seven goals in his 17 appearances in 2019.

Former Woonona midfielder Bradley Strudwick joins the Thistle partnering up with 2019 reserve grade player of the year Reggae Rowley.

With plenty of new signings and a couple of convincing wins during the pre-season namely strong results over Fernhill and Picton, the Thistle may just go another year as one of the competition front-runners.

Prediction: 3rd


Kiama Quarriers

Last Season: 11th, 5 wins, 1 draw, 16 losses, 16 points

Opening month: Fernhill (A), Shell Cove (H), Balgownie (H)

Cups: Fraternity Cup (group stage), Bert Bampton Cup (round 1)

A league-high 78 goals conceded saw the Quarriers slump down to 11th spot in 2019.

New recruits Simon Bussoletti and Dylan Hooper have been brought into the squad to tighten things up at the back, but the big loss is from their main goal-scorer Shinya Yamanaka, who left the club following his first season

Despite this, Kiama have picked up Brenton Burke from Oak Flats and former South Coast Flame youngster Jarrod Shelton to assist them in attack.

Finishing only three points behind 10th in 2019, it’s crucial for the Quarriers to improve on areas in defence should they wish to move up the IDL ladder.

Prediction: 11th


Oak Flats Falcons

Last Season: 3rd, 15 wins, 1 draw, 6 losses, 46 points

Opening month: Balgownie (H), University (A), Shell Cove (A)

Cups: Fraternity Cup (quarter-finals), Bert Bampton Cup (round 3)

The Falcons go into the campaign as competition favourites following their impressive 2019 season.

Oak Flats co-coach, Nathan Minutillo has secured the signature of brother, and Wollongong Olympic forward Julian Minutillo to continue his impressive IPL form from 2019 into the IDL.

Oak Flats have also recruited Kyle Del and Aden Wade from top tier outfit Woonona which will make the 2019 grand finalists the pick of the competition in 2020.

The Falcons are the team to beat.

Prediction: 1st


Picton Rangers 

Last Season: 6th, 10 wins, 4 draws, 8 losses, 34 points

Opening month: Unanderra (H), Berkeley (A), Warilla (A)

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

Picton will be looking to bounce back into the top five after missing out by just one point following a much-improved second half the season.

Undefeated in the final eight games, the Bushpigs almost snuck into the finals but will need to be at their best in this shortened season.

Strengthening their squad, Picton have picked up under 23’s Woonona pair Lachlan Newman and Tyler Snelgrove who return to the club.

Newman has already picked up a couple of goals during pre-season and he will be looking to ride his form into the season.

Picton’s first round match-up against Unanderra could set the benchmark for the club’s season.

Prediction: 8th


Shell Cove FC

Last Season: 10th, 5 wins, 4 draws, 13 losses, 19 points

Opening month: University (H), Kiama (A), Oak Flats (H)

Cups: Fraternity Cup (quarter-finals), Bert Bampton Cup (round 1)

A quarter-final appearance in the pre-season Fraternity Cup in March could be the renewed confidence the Cove need heading into 2020.

Wins over Berkeley and Thirroul saw them advance out of the group stage as the highest second-placed team but soon fell to IPL outfit Coniston.

A key signing in Jack Hamilton from Port Kembla could be the answer to their defensive woes as the youngster played 23 out of a possible 24 games in the heart of defence for the Port Kembla under 23s side in 2019.

Former IPL youth grader Hayden Soper has also looked promising in pre-season as well as youngster Lochlan Carrasco who has stepped up into first grade following an impressive youth grade season.

A mix of young and old for the Cove this year could take some time to click into gear in the revised season.

Prediction: 7th


Thirroul Thunder

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

Opening month: Berkeley (H), Balgownie (A), Fernhill (H)

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

The Thunder’s late season surge saw them sneak into the top five in 2019, as well as coming within one game of grand final day showing they aren’t a team to be treated lightly.

District League player of the year Nathan Mucci leads his side again along with reserve grade penalty shootout hero Liam Harris in goal.

New signing, Ashley Hawkes will assist Mucci up-front, who has already found the net on several occasions in pre-season.

Young gun and 2019 fringe player Josh Bond has also had his hand in a few appearances in the first team during pre-season and may cause some havoc should he consistently get a run in the first team.

A couple of big wins in the opening fortnight could really be a stepping stone for the Thunder to plant their foot in the final five yet again.

Prediction: 5th


Unanderra Hearts

Last Season: 4th, 12 wins, four draws, 6 losses, 40 points

Opening month: Picton (A), Warilla (H), University (H)

Cups: Fraternity Cup (group stage), Bert Bampton Cup (round 2)

Experienced coach Rod Williams takes over the Hearts in season 2020 just two years after he took Coniston to the IPL.

Williams has brought in some key players which makes them one of the teams to beat. Youngsters Joel Perry and Scott Bridge join from IPL sides Tarrawanna and Albion Park respectively.

Brad Moreira reunites with his former coach joining from Coniston to bolster the midfield and the Hearts have also claimed the signature of former South Coast Flame and Shell Cove shot-stopper Brandon Groom.

With some handy new recruits linking up with influential attacking players such as Mark Picciolini and Dominic McGill, Unanderra will have a high-chance on producing some stand-out results in 2020.

Prediction: 2nd


University FC

Last Season: 7th, 10 wins, one draw, 11 losses, 31 points

Opening month: Shell Cove (A), Oak Flats (H), Unanderra (A)

 Cups: Fraternity Cup (quarter-finals), Bert Bampton Cup (round 2)

University welcome new coach Scott Regent to help lead them to the finals in 2020.

The Students slipped out of the top five with just two rounds to go in 2019 and along with Regent, have also picked up a few influential players going forward.

Former South Coast Flame and South Coast United forward Cameron Hanson returns to the club following two seasons away and will be joined in attack by Cringila utility Jonathan Liddle.

Captain Doug Woodiwiss also enhances their already influential attack with the midfielder picking up 11 goals last campaign.

The Students failed to beat any of the top five in 2019 which ultimately saw them miss finals football. This year could be a similar outcome but a point in their favour against these sides may just see them either sneak into the five or fall just out of it.

Prediction: 6th


Warilla Wanderers

Last Season: 8th, 6 wins, 5 draws, 11 losses, 23 points

Opening month: Helensburgh (H), Unanderra (A), Picton (H)

Cups: Fraternity Cup (group stage), Bert Bampton Cup (round 2)

An experienced Wanderers side returns to the competition with a mostly unchanged line-up.

Chad Keating returns to the club after a stint with Oak Flats and is partnered in attack with Adrian Montalbano, who both will be looking to spark something up-front following their low-scoring 2019 season when they were the third worst attack with just 24 goals.

Captain Martin Castelli and Jack Fowler make up the Wanderers defence and goalkeeper Blake Pussell rounds up the team at the back.

It’s a tough opening month for the Wanderers where results may alter the shape of their season. A result in one could be enough for them to move up the IDL ladder.

Prediction: 9th

Preview written by Nathan Turner, on Twitter @nathanturner23_

Photo by Pedro Garcia Photography

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