The 2022 Peoplecare District League is poised to kick off under the lights of Thomas Gibson Park on Thursday with Thirroul taking on northern neighbours Picton.
Thirroul and Picton are two of the teams tipped to be fighting for a spot in the finals come the end of the regular season, while many are tipping a three-way tussle at the top for the league championship.
Opening month: Warilla Wanderers (A), Kiama Quarriers (H), University FC (A), Oak Flats Falcons (A)
Balgownie have been bobbling around the middle table in the District League for a number of years now and it will take a big effort if that is to change in the season to come.
Brendon Wyatt has been an interesting signing for the Rangers, while Jackson Dummett also returns to the side to bolster the midfield.
Probably the biggest transfer news for Balgownie is the lack thereof in regards to young striker Chris Hollingshead who remains at Judy Masters Oval after a breakout year in 2021.
The side will need to be consistent to have any chance of scrambling into the top five, but it’s not beyond them.
Opening month: Oak Flats Falcons (H), Unanderra Hearts (A), Warilla Wanderers (H), Helensburgh Thistle (H)
Despite losing 3-2, Berkeley will be buoyed by their Bert Bampton Cup showing against Fernhill and a couple of noteworthy signings could see the side steer clear of the bottom.
Save Trenseki, Alex Brbevski and Luke Bussoletti are all decent signings, however, Ryosuke Matsuoka is the name District League followers should get acquainted with.
Matsuoka is a 37-year-old midfielder who has played more than 200 games in the Japanese professional ranks, including 102 appearances for J1 League side Vissel Kobe – the side who are now captained by Spanish legend Andrés Iniesta.
There are a couple of tiny causes for optimism for Berkeley, but they’re a side that have barely kept their head above the water in recent years so mid-table obscurity would be a solid return.
Opening month: Shell Cove (A), Picton Rangers (H), Thirroul Thunder (H), Kiama Quarriers (A)
There’s plenty to like about Fernhill heading into the new season with the Foxes an outside chance shaking up the (spoiler alert) big three of Helensburgh, Unanderra and Shell Cove.
Coach Dale White has managed to sign Oak Flats trio Kyle Del, Tom Mindzas and Valon Rizvani, as well as 2019 Premier League grand final winner Matt Galanti.
Those pickups add to a squad that already features the likes of Daniel Djukic, Mitch Turner and Jordan Hughes.
Finals football is a must for Fernhill.
Opening month: University FC (A), Warilla Wanderers (A), Kiama Quarriers (A), Berkeley Goats (A)
Helensburgh go into the season with arguably the strongest squad in the District League with it featuring more than a handful of players who would get a run with Premier League top-five contenders.
The Burgh’s biggest signing is former George Naylor Medalist Vaughan Patterson who links up with Andrew Paine for the second time after they were both with Bellambi in 2020.
Luke Van Zyl has also returned to the Thistle to add more strike power to an attack that already boasts the likes of Kade Kinsella, Brad Watts, Cody Cuthbertson and Liam Unicomb.
Helensburgh flattered to deceive in some trials, but made light work of Oak Flats in the Bert Bampton Cup, beating the Falcons 5-1.
Opening month: Unanderra Hearts (A), Balgownie Rangers (A), Helensburgh Thistle (H), Fernhill Foxes (A)
It’s hard to be too optimistic about Kiama’s chances after they were soundly beaten 4-1 by Community League’s Gerringong in the first round of the Bert Bampton on Sunday.
The side would love a lighter start to the season, but matches against Unanderra, Helensburgh and Fernhill in the opening month, they certainly won’t be getting that.
Kiama will rely on the likes of captain Daniel Gillespie, playmaker Tom Snow and James Phillips, while Jordan Warren is a handy defensive pickup.
However, star man Chris Christodoulou has hung up the boots which is a severe blow to the Kiama attack.
Oak Flats Falcons
Opening month: Berkeley Goats (A), Thirroul Thunder (H), Picton Rangers (H), Balgownie Rangers (A)
Oak Flats have slipped a little since claiming the league and grand final double in 2020’s shortened campaign.
However, the Falcons should still be among the favourites to make the top five given they still have the likes of District League goal-scoring ace Bojan Caric, veteran midfielder Jarryd Vinton and reliable defender Jamie Stevenson.
The side have had a few players depart including attacker Kyle Del and goalkeeper Valon Rizvani (both to Fernhill, and their 5-1 defeat against Helensburgh in the Bert Bampton Cup suggests they will fall short of challenging for silverware.
Opening month: Thirroul Thunder (A), Fernhill Foxes (A), Oak Flats Falcons (A), Warilla Wanderers (A)
Picton are always a pretty difficult side to get a read of, though they have been fairly middling in the District League since they were relegated from the top flight in 2018.
Jarred Morley is a big out for the Rangers with the all-action midfielder signing with Camden, however, they have picked up defender Slaven Ljuboja from NSW fourth-tier side Prospect United.
Picton will still look to the likes of Dayne Morley and Scott Miranda to held grind out results – something which will be helped by many southern clubs echoing the age-old adage of “it’s always tough away to Picton”.
Opening month: Fernhill Foxes (H), University FC (H), Unanderra Hearts (H), Thirroul Thunder (H)
Shell Cove go into the season on the back of some decent performances in trials as well as a 5-1 thumping of local rivals Warilla in the Bert Bampton Cup.
The side have plenty of firepower in the likes of Daniel Krkovski, Michael Trajkovski and Tommy Markovski so big scores could be a common occurrence – even without Mimi Yaldo who scored 17 goals in 12 matches last year.
The Cove start the season with six straight home matches, before just two in 11. Will this be a factor? Time will tell.
Opening month: Picton Rangers (H), Oak Flats Falcons (A), Fernhill Foxes (A), Shell Cove (A)
Thirroul have built a reputation of being difficult to beat and that’s in large part due to the stability at Thomas Gibson Park.
Garth Bowley remains at the helm with his side propped up by Thirroul mainstays like Daniel Bond, Daniel Arthur and Todd Davidson. Nathan Mucci has also re-signed with the blue and whites with the pint-sized playmaker to pull the strings from midfield.
The Thunder have made a fantastic acquisition in Chris Gibson from Tarrawanna. The centre back has been one of the steadiest defenders in the Premier League over the last decade and he will no doubt shore up Thirroul’s backline.
Opening month: Kiama Quarriers (H), Berkeley Goats (H), Shell Cove (A), University FC (H)
Unanderra have been gunning for top spot in the District League ever since Rod Williams took over at the start of 2020.
The trend doesn’t look like changing in 2022 with Williams assembling another strong squad who, with a bit of luck, could take out the league.
Renowned goal-getter Mark Picciolini will continue to lead the line with support from the likes of Christian Plakias and Lachlan Martin, while Robbie Delbanco, Nathan Belsito and Jason Goldsmith are some of the players who have been signed to bolster the squad.
The Hearts will be there or thereabouts in the league title race.
Opening month: Helensburgh Thistle (H), Shell Cove (A), Balgownie Rangers (H), Unanderra Hearts (A)
University were in the running for the top five last season, before Covid brought an end to the season.
Neville Arrowsmith medallist Doug Woodiwiss is a huge omission with significant question marks over whether Uni will be able to replace his goals and guidance.
Uni will look to the likes of Ryan Sinclair, Angus Kelly and Josh Martin to step into the void left by Woodiwiss.
The Students will be in the middle of the pack.
Opening month: Balgownie Rangers (H), Helensburgh Thistle (H), Berkeley Goats (A), Picton Rangers
The days of being consistent grand final contenders are long gone at King Mickey Park.
Warilla were pretty competitive in 2021, but the side has lost a few key figures including midfield maestro Javier Ovando who has retired.
The list of ins isn’t extensive, meaning new coach Steve Micevski will need to get the most out of the likes of Adrian Montalbano, Martin Castelli and Brenton Geribo if the Wanderers are to avoid getting drawn into a relegation scrap.
Season preview by Dylan Arvela, on Twitter @dylanarvela
Photos by Graham Brown