The NNSW NPL season starts March 20 and we are counting down the days with season previews on each club.
After three tough campaigns, Weston were mid-season leaders last year under rookie coach Kew Jaliens before just missing finals. Jaliens has left for opportunities overseas and another ex-international in Leo Bertos has taken the reins.
Coach: Leo Bertos
Last year: 5th (37 points, + 11 goals)
Arrivals: Jarryd Sutherland (Olympic), Connor Heydon (Adamstown), Musa Kamara (Charlestown), Aaron Niyonkuru (Valentine)
Departures: Regan Lundy (Charlestown), Tristan Esquilant (Adamstown), Jason Tjien-Fooh, Cooper Buswell, Jack Kamper, Johnmark Offeh
First month: Valentine (H), Olympic (A), Broadmeadow (H), Jaffas (A)
Q&A - coach Leo Bertos
You took the job relatively late in preparations, in January. How much of a disadvantage has that been?
I think it's a big disadvantage, not in terms of preparing players, but in maybe getting players in because most have committed to a club already. And maybe with players who have left, they may have wanted to stay on. It's not ideal but it is what it is. We have to deal the best we can with it. We just have to make sure we have the group ready to start on a good note, and as we progress through the season, there might be opportunities to strengthen the squad, if we need to.
They narrowly missed finals last year after leading. Have you sensed that as a source of motivation?
The first training session I had with the guys, I could sense that desire to really go for it again this year and I know that's something we've talked about as a group. The effort they showed last year didn't result fairly in the way it ended for them. They are all hurting from it and they all know what they are capable of and it's definitely our goal, as a minimum, to play finals. We want to compete at the top and try to win it, like everyone, but we definitely want to improve and make finals.
Will we see any difference in style or strategy under your coaching?
I think so. I can't say that I'm a similar coach to Kew, although we do things similarly, but the way we coach the game is a little different. In terms of man management, we are quite similar. In terms of ideas and tactics and how we see players and where they are suited, it can vary, so there's going to be some change. It takes a bit of time for players to adapt to it but we are progressing quite well. Hopefully it's attractive but it also needs to be effective. We want to play, we want to play football. We want to bring in a new style of playing for the club to move forward on.
What have you focused on as areas to improve?
There's a few things. The team was quite effective going forward, almost on a counter-attack type of play, and parts of the season they kept possession quite well, but that's a big focus I want to improve on - the ability of the players and the understanding to want to keep the ball more and have a bit more composure in that area. That's really important for me. And we've lost a few attacking players who were really effective for us ... so part of it is trying to figure out a way of playing that suits the players so we can still create opportunities and score.
Who is a player to watch from the Bears this year?
There's a couple who have really grasped what I've been trying to do a bit quicker than others. I've been really happy with how Nathan Morris has been performing and he's a very important player for us. Zac Sneddon has always been quite a good player, but I feel his game is improving, especially in what he's doing with the ball.
Weston's defence and midfield stocks are similar for Bertos but he has lost the two top scorers from last year in Tjien-Fooh (nine goals) and Lundy (eight), as well as Buswell (four). Whether recruits Heydon, Sutherland, Kamara and Niyonkuru can fill that void is the big query.
Weston have a squad capable of repeating last year's effort, but the personnel changes and time to adjust to a new coach will make it hard for them to go any better, especially in a shorter season.