Stirling Sports Premiership 2016-17: Your complete guide to every team's chances

Albert Riera has returned to Auckland City from the Wellington Phoenix.
SHANE WENZLICK/PHOTOTEK.NZ

Albert Riera has returned to Auckland City from the Wellington Phoenix.

There are three new faces in New Zealand's national football league this season as the competition undergoes its biggest revamp since the move to franchises 12 years ago.

The first round of the Stirling Sports Premiership takes place this weekend, with Sunday's grand final rematch between Auckland City and Team Wellington the pick of the games, while there will also be plenty of interest in how newcomers Eastern Suburbs, Hamilton Wanderers and Tasman United fare. 

As the season gets underway, Stuff's football reporters have run the rule over each club's prospects.

AUCKLAND CITY

2015-16 placing: Beaten finalist (Second)

Coach: Ramon Tribulietx

Squad:  Danyon Drake, Enai Zubikarai, Jacob Spoonley; Alfie Rogers, Angel Berlanga, Darren White, Harry Edge, Mario Bilen, Marko Dordevic, Takuya Iwata; Albert Riera, Clayton Lewis, Daewook Kim, Fabrizio Tavano, Reid Drake, Te Atawhai Hudson-Wihongi; Emiliano Tade, Joao Moreira, Micah Lea'alafa, Nicolai Berry, Ryan de Vries, Yousif Ali Al-Khalisy

Key player: Ryan de Vries was last year's leading goalscorer, and his ability to create something out of nothing will be crucial, especially if his side's wealth of possession doesn't always lead to penetration. 

The lowdown: Even after being toppled by Team Wellington in last year's decider, the Navy Blues remain the team everyone else judges themselves against, and the team everyone else wants to beat. They began their season a week early with a 1-0 loss to Waitakere United, where they dominated possession but looked short of ideas in the final third, yet still had enough chances that a win wouldn't have been unfair. It's a pattern that will be seen again, and while they should convert those chances more often than not, they appear likely to be more vulnerable than they have of late, especially in one-off playoff games. Andrew Voerman

Ryan de Vries will again be Auckland City’s most potent threat. PHOTOSPORT

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WAITAKERE UNITED

2015-16 placing: Sixth

Coach: Chris Milicich

Squad:  Pirmin Strasser, Liam Anderson, Lewis Caunter; Scott Hilliar, Ian Hogg, Julyan Collett, David Parkinson, Stewart MacKay, Harrison Nash; Ryan Tinsley, Jake Butler, Jake Porter, Dan Morgan, Eder Franchini Pasten, Tom Shaw; Dylan Stansfield, Dylan Manickum, Stefan Thelen, Ryan Cain, David Icardo Hernandez, Keegan Linderboom, Abdulla Al-Kalisy

Key player: Pirmin Strasser, their new Austrian keeper, who has already played a big part in securing three points against Auckland City. With Waitakere's relatively thin defensive stocks, he is likely to be called on a lot during the season, yet appears up to the challenge.

The lowdown: After winning their first Auckland derby since February 2014 last Sunday, Waitakere United could argue that this season is already better than last year's, where they finished sixth and missed the playoffs for the first time since 2006. The organisation they showed in that win will be a calling card all season long, but how well they function in games where they need to take the initiative will determine how successful they can be. AV

EASTERN SUBURBS

2015-16 placing: N/A

Coach: Malcolm McPherson

Squad: Zac Speedy, Silvio Rodic, Joshua Dijkstra; Anthony Hobbs, Calvin Opperman, Finn Cochran, Hayden Johns, Luke Adams, Ross Haviland, Tristan Prattley; Andrew Blake, Emmanuel Ekpo, Jordan Vale, Mario Ilich, Moses Dyer, Sam Burfoot, Tim Payne; Armin Pasagic, Derek Tieku, Fabien Kurimata, Osita Henry Chikere, Sean Lovemore

Key player: Midfielder Tim Payne is one of several young Kiwis who have returned from overseas or moved from elsewhere to join Suburbs, and will be looking to make a case for an All Whites recall. 

The lowdown: A club with a proud history at national league level back in the day, the Lilywhites have assembled a squad, that, on paper at least, suggests title contention. They have attracted a number of Kiwis back from overseas, as well as from other franchises, and have also added a handful of imports with impressive backgrounds. However, with players coming from all sorts of places, they will likely need time to gel as a team. How quickly they can manage that will determine whether they can make a title challenge. AV

HAMILTON WANDERERS

2015-16 placing: N/A

Coach: Mark Cossey

Squad: Damian Hirst, Matt Oliver; Aaron Scott, Bailey Webster, Christian Gray, Johnny Konings, Jordan Shaw, Sam Redwood, Tom Davis, Xavier Pratt; Alexis Varela, Cory Mitchell, Dylan Windust, Jack Salter, Kenta Nakashima, Mark Jones, Rossi Nkoy; Godwin Darkwa, Jama Boss, Judd Baker, Marc Evans, Raymond Gunemba, Regont Murati

Key player: Chilean midfielder Alexis Varela is one of the few experienced faces in this side and will have a more impressive collection of talent ahead of him than he ever had at Waikato FC and WaiBop United. His ability to assert himself in midfield and control games will be key in allowing Wanderers to play the way they want. 

The lowdown: Wanderers join the premiership looking to give the Waikato its first appearance in the playoffs since the 2004-05 season, and have a squad that is certainly capable of doing so. In selecting nine members of their own winter squad, and seven from Birkenhead United, who also contribute assistant coach Paul Hobson, they will be hoping to benefit from existing combinations, especially in defence and midfield. How players who have had success at club level make the step up will have a big say in how they fare. AV

Alexis Varela will be a key cog in Wanderers' midfield. GEORGE HEARD/FAIRFAX NZ

HAWKE'S BAY UNITED

2015-16 placing: Beaten semifinalist (Third)

Coach: Brett Angell

Squad: Josh Hill, Ruben Parker; Ben Eversen, Fergus Neil, Finn Milne, Kohei Matsumoto, Martin Canales, Matthew Whatley, Sean Liddicoat; Alex Palezevic, Cory Chettleburgh, Ethan Dent, Lewis Tiller, Nile Walwyn, Ross Willox; Ben Eversen, Facundo Barbero, Sam Mason-Smith, Saul Halpin 

Key player: They lost a lot up front when Hamish Watson went to the Wellington Phoenix midway through last season and will need Sam Mason-Smith, who has been in good form in the Central League, to knock in double figures this year.

The lowdown: They should have a solid defence, with the likes of Sean Liddicoat, Kohei Matsumoto, Finlay Milne and new signing Nile Walwyn in the squad. Finding goals might be harder as mentioned above. They should be in the playoff mix again, but might lose their spot to new Auckland franchise Eastern Suburbs or the resurgent Waitakere United. Retaining coach Brett Angell is a major boost to their chances. Liam Hyslop

TEAM WELLINGTON

2015-16 placing: Champions (First)

Coach: Jose Figueira

Squad: Scott Basalaj, James McPeake; Bill Robertson, Billy Scott, Guillermo Moretti, Justin Gulley, Ryan Holden, Taylor Schrijvers; Cam Howieson, Cole Peverley, Leo Villa, Mario Barcia, Niko Kirwan, Omrie Saolele; Andy Bevin, Ben Harris, Josh Margetts, Nicolas Zambrano, Sam Blackburn, Tom Jackson

Key player: If last year's Golden Boot winner, Ben Harris, can replicate his form then his side will be in the playoff hunt again.

The lowdown: Top four is expected and should happen. The key members of the title-winning squad are back, and they have strengthened in attack with Nicolas Zambrano and at the back with Argentine defender Guillermo Moretti. Add that to the likes of Harris, Tom Jackson, Andy Bevin, Bill Robertson and Cole Peverley and the new coach has a strong squad to choose from. LH

WELLINGTON PHOENIX RESERVES

2015-16 placing: Seventh

Coach: Andy Hedge

Squad:  Keegan Smith, Oliver Sail; Ben Mata, Jack-Henry Sinclair, Jake Williams, Liam Moore, Liam Wood, Luke Johnson, Sam Gillespie, Sam Philip; Joe Bell, Liberato Cacace, Luke Tongue, Sarpreet Singh, Ollie Whyte, Willem Ebbinge; Logan Rogerson, Max Mata, Ruairi Cahill-Fluery, Nick Lane

Key player: 17-year-old midfielder Sarpreet Singh is rated as one of the best young talents at the club and has the potential to light up the league.

The lowdown: The Phoenix reserves are only in the league to give their squad players gametime and expose their best and brighest young players to decent competition. Making the playoffs would be a major surprise. What would help their cause is if the top team don't have too many injuries and suspensions, as it would mean the likes of Logan Rogerson, Dylan Fox, Oliver Sail and Ryan Lowry will get long runs in the team. A serious knee injury to James McGarry has also weakened the midfield. LH

TASMAN UNITED

2015-16 placing: N/A

Coach: Richard Anderson

Squad: Coey Turipa, Tom Fawdry, Mark Johnston, Daniel Allan, Scott Gannon, Ermal Hajdari, Paul Ifill, Labu Pan, Bertie Fish, Cameron Lindsay, Dylan Burns, James Hoyt, Robbie Pearson, Alex Ridsdale, Jordan Swaney, Ryan Stewart, Tinashe Marowa, Tyrrell Barringer-Tahiri, Matt Tod-Smith, David Maisey, Nick Smith, Sam Ayers.

Key player: Paul Ifill may be 36-years-old but the Wellington Phoenix legend still has the ability to change a game. With only a handful of players having even played in the premiership before, Tasman will rely on Ifill's big game experience and goalscoring ability.

The lowdown: Tasman appear unlikely to be serious title contenders in their first season in the premiership and just being competitive will be goal achieved. Young midfielders Cameron Lindsay and Dylan Burns have plenty to prove after moving back to New Zealand from the UK, while Swedish striker Ermal Hajdari is likely to be the source of most of Tasman's goals and has looked lively in pre-season. Tasman head into their first game against Canterbury United on the back of two preseason defeats against the competition's two worst teams from last year; losing 1-0 to the Wellington Phoenix reserves and 2-1 to Southern United. Phillip Rollo

Former Wellington Phoenix striker Paul Ifill will be key to Tasman United's hopes. PHILLIP ROLLO/FAIRFAX NZ

CANTERBURY UNITED

2015-16 placing: Beaten semifinalist (Fourth)

Coach: Willy Gerdsen

Squad: Danny Knight, Kris Schulz, Tom Batty; Andreas Wilson, Brock Messenger, Dan Terris, Felix Komolong, Jackson Brady, Nick Howarth, Tom Schwarz; Aaron Clapham, Aaron Spain, Andre de Jong, Colin van Gool, Gary Ogilvie, Roddy Lockhart; Daniel Thorns, Juan Chang, Matt Wiesenfarth, Nikolai Molijn, Stephen Hoyle

Key player: Canterbury have struggled with their finishing in previous seasons and will hope 23-year-old Englishman Stephen Hoyle is the man to solve that problem. He was the league's third top goal scorer last season with 10 strikes for WaiBop United and showed his quality in preseason, netting against Auckland City. Could he be the regular goal-scorer Canterbury have craved since Russell Kamo retired two years ago?

The lowdown: The challenge for Canterbury is how do they rise from a decent side to a great one and contend with the likes of Auckland City, Team Wellington and Eastern Suburbs. Coach Gerdsen has retained the bulk of last year's side and will be optimistic of another top-four finish. The Dragons have a dependable midfield with talented youngster Andre de Jong and the proven Aaron Clapham and Gary Ogilvie. Can Hoyle and American striker Matt Wiesenfarth consistently translate chances into goals up front? Brendon Egan

SOUTHERN UNITED

2015-16 placing: Eighth

Coach: Paul O'Reilly

Squad: Liam Little, Tom Stevens; Cam Higgins, Conor O'Keefe, Craig Ferguson, Jude Fitzpatrick, Niall Malone, Ross Howard, Sam Cosgrave, Stephen Last; Andrew Ridden, Ben O'Farrell, Danny Ledwith, Harley Rodeka, Luis Paiva, Michael Hogan; Eric Molloy, Andy Mulligan, Sam Collier, Tennessee Kinghorn 

Key player: Any of their five Irish imports, with Eric Molloy, who scored two goals from the right wing in Southern United's warm-up preseason victory over Tasman United, an early shout.

The lowdown: New coach Paul O'Reilly has boosted his southern side with five Irish imports as they look to improve on their last place finish in 2015-16. The introduction of Molloy, Stephen Last, Danny Ledwith, Conor O'Keefe and Andy Mulligan will have boosted a side otherwise made up of local players from around the region. Finishing outside the bottom two for the first time since the 2011-12 season will be the first target for the southerners. Scott Donaldson

 - Stuff

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