Young lads need to step up
There may be a lack of depth after some key departures but the Nelson Suburbs coaching staff are optimistic ahead of the Mainland Premier League.
AMI Nelson Suburbs have a core group of players returning but have lost some key contributors to the run that saw them finish second last season. On paper it "may not be championship winning material" but there will be opportunities for youngsters to stake a claim.
With the season starting at home next weekend against the newly promoted Universities side, co-coach Paul Brydon sees it as an opportunity for some of the new recruits to step up.
"We have lost a lot of players from last season and pre-season has been a bit difficult for us," he said. "We haven't got the imports this year but it is a chance for the young guys coming through. I am quietly confident."
There is a distinct lack of marquee players compared to last season. Chilean midfielder Alberto Zabala was only here for one year, Irish midfielder Pete Whyte will not be returning, nor will Solomon Island strikers Gagame Feni or Jerry Donga.
The biggest loss for Suburbs is the defection of Mark Johnston, captain for the past four seasons and defensive leader, who has switched codes to try his hand at rugby union this season.
There were talks that Mainland Premier League goalkeeper of the season in 2013 Simon Capenerhurst would be making a move to Wellington, but Brydon is hopeful that he will stay another season.
The bones of the squad will be made up by returning players. Ben Wright, who also coaches the team, won striker of the year last season. Davi Maciel has all the touches, as does the electric Sam Ayers, and stalwart Ryan Stewart will be fresh from the Nelson Falcons campaign.
In the defensive set-up, Johnny Gough, Neil Connell and Sean Parkes were crucial to last season's top-notch defensive effort that saw Suburbs concede just 21 goals in 21 games.
Sam Miller and Hayden Nunn have come across from FC Nelson. Nunn has played for Hamilton Wanderers and is regarded as a very tidy midfield player and Miller came through Nayland College with Ayers.
Though the success of the season, or otherwise, may rely on the ability of young Falcons players finding their feet and excelling in the adult leagues, as Brydon said it was a different prospect altogether.
"Obviously it is a big step up for those lads playing in the youth league. In Mainland, boys playing against men is a different kettle of fish. But I expect some of these guys to step up to the mark especially with guys like Ben Wright there."
Daniel Grimshaw, Sam Maxwell, Josh Sansom, Josh Moffatt, Izaak Cunningham and Harry Tod-Smith will all be involved following a successful year with the Falcons that saw them win the southern conference and make the national cup final. There will likely be more Falcons also involved in the extended squad.
Wright said he was very impressed with what the Falcons had achieved this season, and he hoped this would continue to promote football in the region and bolster the game at all levels.
"[Falcons coach Davor Tavich] has done a tremendous job with the team this season. They are great for football in the region and it will be great to see how those players progress this year in adult football."
Wright said he was still "realistic" about the prospects of challenging for the title this season. "We are definitely short at this stage, we don't have the depth," said Wright.
"There is not a great deal to go off, but the boys we have are working hard and buying in to what we are trying to do. You do the best with what you've got and that is not a problem at all."
Wright said there was no real formula for a winning team. A side could have all the stars and still fail to win a title and be beaten by a squad that know their game inside and out.
The aim for Suburbs this season was to find the formula with their mix of experienced and youthful players.
AT A GLANCE
AMI Nelson Suburbs MPL initial squad: Ben Wright, Davi Maciel, Harry Tod-Smith, Hayden Nunn, Izaak Cunningham, Jonathan Gough, Joseph Walton, Josh Moffatt , Josh Sansom, Marcello Riley, Max Winterton, Cameron Thomas, Neil Connell, Ryan Stewart, Sam Ayers, Sam Maxwell, Sam Miller, Sean Parkes, Simon Capenerhurst, Wesley Olea, Daniel Grimshaw.
- The Nelson Mail