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The newly renamed Fraternity Club District League has been shaken up leading into the 2023 season with Helensburgh earning promotion to the Premier League and Kiama dropping down to the Community League. 

Gerringong Breakers will embark on their maiden campaign in the Football South Coast Men’s Premiership away to Oak Flats on Saturday. 

Picton will have the first weekend off with a bye being required in this year’s District League, while there will also be no Shell Cove this time around with the Barrack Heights Oval club rebranding as Shellharbour FC.

Click here to view the season draw.

Balgownie Rangers

Opening month: Unanderra Hearts (A), Warilla Wanderers (A), Picton Rangers (H), Oak Flats Falcons (H)

Balgownie were in the finals hunt until the closing weeks of last season, however, an awful final month of the season saw the side fall five points short. 

The Rangers have lost a few influential players over the summer including Jackson Dummett, Brendan Wyatt and striker Chris Hollingshead who have both shifted across to University. 

Clubman Luke Buckley has taken over as head coach and his most impressive signing comes in the shape of ex-Premier League forward Jesse French who netted in Balgownie’s 8-0 win against Albion Park City in the first round of the Bert Bampton Cup. 

If French can stay on the park and the side improve on their defence that shipped 45 goals in 22 games last year, they could find themselves in with a chance of making the finals.

Prediction: 7th

Berkeley Sports

Opening month: Shellharbour FC (A), Oak Flats Falcons (H), Fernhill Foxes (H), Bye

Despite finishing third from the bottom, Berkeley had one of their better seasons in recent years which they will look to build on in 2023. 

The Goats have held onto Japanese Ryosuke Matsuoka who was instrumental for them despite being 38 years of age with the club also re-signing his compatriot Mondo Kagami. 

Veteran forward Nuno Pires, who joined halfway through last season, returns and he will be keen to form a partnership with midfielder Luke Boersma. 

Berkeley were pumped 5-0 by University and with an extremely tough start to the season, the opening month could prove pivotal. 

Prediction: 10th

Fernhill Foxes

Opening month: Warilla Wanderers (H), Shellharbour FC (H), Berkeley Sports (A), Picton Rangers (H)

Fernhill had an incredible finish to 2022, however, a last-round defeat to University meant the Students played finals footy rather than the Foxes.

Dale White continues as coach, and he has managed to keep hold of a majority of his first team while adding in a couple of key areas. 

The key re-signings include Daniel Djukic and Mitchell Turner who scored 14 goals each last time out, as well as experienced heads Jordan Hughes and Mattias Passlack. 

The standout pickup comes in ex-Woonona captain Brendan Pattman who should add a lot of creativity to the side, whether it be from the middle of the park or the flank. 

The Foxes’ 3-2 win against Oak Flats in the first round of the Bert Bampton Cup, where they played with 10 players for 55 minutes, shows they’re a force to be reckoned with. 

Prediction: 3rd

Gerringong Breakers

Opening month: Oak Flats Falcons (A), Picton Rangers (H), Thirroul Thunders (A), Warilla Wanderers (A)

Gerringong’s bold move to leave the Shoalhaven Districts competition has finally paid off with the Breakers set to debut in the Men’s Premiership. 

The Breakers will be led by coach Brad Boardman who has retained many of the players who achieved promotion including top scorer Jake Packham, Rhyley Foenander and the Hawker brothers Zac and Josh.

The side have shown they were a cut above from Community League for a few seasons now, however, Oak Flats will pose a stern first-up challenge.

Prediction: 8th

Oak Flats Falcons

Opening month: Gerringong Breakers (H), Berkeley Sports (A), University FC (H), Balgownie Rangers (A)

Fabian Cappetta and Nathan Minutillo have returned back to coach Oak Flats three years on from delivering the club a league and grand final double. 

The co-coaches have been on a recruitment drive during the offseason and they haven’t come up short with intelligent defender Boden Allport and Premier League stalwart Fabian Iacovelli two of the standout signings. 

Oak Flats have re-signed striker Bojan Caric, defender Jamie Stevenson and veteran mdifielder Jarryd Vinton – the latter who will work alongside acquisitions Todd Sparks and Bailey Fleming in the middle of the park. 

The Falcons will be aiming to get off to a flyer and if they do, they could be tough to catch, however, their confidence may be dented after being bundled out of the Bert Bampton Cup against Fernhill. 

Prediction: 2nd

Picton Rangers

Opening month: Bye, Gerringong Breakers (A), Balgownie Rangers (A), Fernhill Foxes (A)

Picton were in and around fifth spot for the majority of 2022 before falling a point shy of the playoffs. 

Experienced heads Scott Miranda, Daniel Nelson, Matthew Tesoriero and the Morley brothers, Dayne and Jarred, remain at Hume Oval as does teenager Bailey Fitzsimmons who had a solid breakout season in first grade last year. 

The Rangers were humbled 4-0 in the Bert Bampton Cup by Thirroul, however, they have a week off before tackling District League newbies Gerringong – a match that will include a 190km round trip. 

Prediction: 6th

Shellharbour FC

Opening month: Berkeley Sports (H), Fernhill Foxes (A), Warilla Wanders (H), Thirroul Thunder (A)

Out with Shell Cove and in with Shellharbour says the Barrack Heights Oval club who will now be led by two-time District League grand final winning coach Rod Williams. 

The former Unanderra coach has attracted a few influential players from the Hearts including wideman Valentino Merxhusi, midfielder Robbie Delbanco, defender Luke Debrot and goalkeeper Blake Coad.

Forwards Michael Trajkovski and Tommy Markovski who scored 22 goals and 10 goals respectively last season have also been re-signed with the pair set to duke it out with new signing Corey Haines-Grose up top. 

The club fell well shy of Helensburgh in 2022, however, with a stronger squad and a coach with a record of success in this league, they have to be seen as one of the favorites.

Prediction: 1st

Thirroul Thunder

Opening month: University FC (A), Unanderra Hearts (A), Gerringong Breakers (H), Shellharbour FC (H)

Thirroul struggled for the majority of last season before finishing fourth from bottom, however, a convincing 4-0 win against Picton in the first round of this year’s Bert Bampton Cup leaves room for optimism. 

The Thunder’s core of Nathan Mucci, Daniel Bond, Todd Davidson and Brad Strudwick remain at Thomas Gibson Park, however, there are some key losses including top goalscorer Corey Haines-Grose.

Keep an eye out for young guns such as Tyler Adams, Stuart Forbes and Jonty Westbrook if they get an opportunity in the top grade after impressing at youth level. 

Prediction: 9th

Unanderra Hearts

Opening month: Balgownie Rangers (H), Thirroul Thunder (H), Bye, University FC (A)

Unanderra caused a major upset to edge Helensburgh in last year’s grand final after finishing 22 points off the Thistle during the regular season. 

However, Unanderra have lost coach Rod Williams and a number of star players with Michael Garcia stepping into the hot seat to try and replicate the success. 

Mark Picciolini, who is still finding the back of the net at 37, has re-signed and will partner experienced Premier League forward Dinko Terzic – the pair enjoying tremendous success with Coniston in 2018. 

Christian Plakias will continue to be a presence in the middel of the park while Luke Picciolini and Chris Stevanovski could offer some spark from outwide. 

Goalkeeper Blake Coad is one of the departures from Unanderra, however, they have retained Japanese Kenji Sawada who showed plenty of ability in Second Grade last year. 

Unanderra are weaker than they were in 2022, however, they still have the players to beat anyone in the District League on their day. 

Prediction: 4th

University FC

Opening month: Thirroul Thunders (H), Bye, Oak Flats Falcons (A), Unanderra Hearts (A)

University shocked the rest of the competition by sneaking into the top five before going within a game of last season’s grand final. 

The Students have a fairly young squad, but they have retained most of their key players from last season including Chris Twigg, Josh Martin, Ashley Hawkes and Oscar Pruks.

Uni have signed a few new faces with the most notable being former Balgownie forward Chris Hollingshead who will be looking to improve on his one-in-three strike rate from 2022.

The Students had a convincing 5-0 win against Berkeley in the first round of the Bert Bampton Cup which will buoy the side ahead of hosting Thirroul. 

Prediction: 5th

Warilla Wanderers

Opening month: Fernhill Foxes (A), Balgownie Rangers (H), Shellharbour FC (A), Gerringong Breakers (H)

Warilla had an ordinary time out in 2022, finishing well clear of relegated Kiama, but still 10-points adrift of Berkeley in 10th.

The Wanderers have had a busy preseason, hosting the Joe Moreno Cup and the Billy Kyriakidis Cup, however, the preparation didn’t help in their first competitive match last weekend where they lost 3-1 to Community League side Hill Top in the Bert Bampton Cup. 

Jack Pirie, who previously played in the New Zealand Premiership before moving to the Illawarra to take up a sport reporter role with WIN News, has the potential to be a top signing. 

Jack Murray, the side’s top scorer in 2022, has re-signed, however, coach Steve Micevski and his new assistant David Graovac face an uphill battle to avoid finishing last.

Prediction: 11th

Season preview by Dylan Arvela, on Twitter @dylanarvela
Photos by Pedro Garcia, Gerringong Breakers and Kiah Hufton

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