Season three of the Coastal Premier League is set to kick off this weekend with two new clubs aiming to knock Coffs City United off their perch.
The Lions have been the best and most consistent side in the opening two years of the competition, but they will have new boys Southern United and Bellingen to contest with over the next 22 rounds.
Port Macquarie's two sides - United and Saints - will look to improve on their 2021 efforts where United finished fourth and Saints seventh.
Here's a look at the 12 sides vying to be crowned CPL champions.
Coach: Glen Williams
Last season: Finished first on 46 points
Squad news: The Lions have signed Jamie Wall from West Pymble along with Maki Roomans and Max Peel who rejoin the club after moving away. They do, however, lose some firepower and creativity in Mabior Garang, Jemila Oko and Caleb Lokpo.
Bottom line: Coffs City have been the most consistent side in the opening two seasons of the CPL - albeit COVID-affected. They were beaten by Boambee in the northern conference grand final in 2020 before the competition had to be halted due to the pandemic at the semi-final stage last season. Coffs City have recorded two-straight minor premierships and their pre-season form indicates they'll again be hard to beat.
Coach: Shannon Hall
Last season: Finished ninth on 11 points.
Squad news: Wildcats have picked up former Football Mid North Coast Premier League scoring whiz Ricky Campbell along with coach Shannon Hall who returns from injury. They have, however, lost attacking midfielder Sam Modderno to Newcastle along with Dylan Murphy, Jedd Clarke and Trey Richardson.
Bottom line: The addition of Ricky Campbell up front will help the Wildcats' potency in front of goal, but he can't do it all himself. Taree showed glimpses of what they were capable in a strong finish to 2021 so how they back that up on a consistent basis will determine how high they finish. Unlikely to feature in the finals.
Coach: Jonathon Newman
Last season: N/A
Squad news: One of two new clubs to join the Coastal Premier League, Southern United have been the talk of the town with a lot of pre-season predictions featuring them in semi-final contention. The addition of a group of previously successful Wallis Lake players in Roan Whiteman, Ethan Perry, Bayden Schumann, Beau Wynter and goalkeeper Rhys Dawes provides plenty of cause for optimism.
Bottom line: Coach Jonathon Newman has had varying levels of success with clipboard in hand, but how well - and how soon - he gets his side performing will have a huge impact on their season. On paper, they have the players to challenge Coffs City United for the title, but will they be consistent enough?
Coach: Oliver King
Last season: Finished seventh on 23 points
Squad news: Saints have picked up Port United trio Ben Oakley, Mason Moore and Ty Merchant who have made the trip across Hastings River Drive. Those additions have been offset by the loss of Logan Palmer and Roan Whiteman who have moved on.
Bottom line: Saints took points off top-two finishers Coffs City and Coffs Coast last season which showed what they were capable of. But a late-season slip-up to Port United along with back-to-back draws against Kempsey Saints and Sawtell cost them a chance at vying for a finals spot. Their pre-season form has been strong, but how they cover for the loss of Whiteman who provided a target man up front will determine their season.
Coach: Adam Bruest
Last season: Finished fourth on 29 points
Squad news: United have lost young guns Ben Oakley, Mason Moore and Ty Marchant but have picked up attacking midfielder Josh Casey who returns after a three-year stint out of town.
Bottom line: United will be in a dogfight in the middle of the table where up to five teams could be jostling for three finals spots. A handy run with injuries and how well they adjust to a new coach following the departure of Nathan Wade after five seasons in charge at Dixie Park will be important. The Green Bloods, however, are unlikely to lose much with club legend Adam Bruest to take over.
Last season: Finished fifth on 26 points
Squad news: Northern Storm have cleared the decks with their entire first-choice first grade side and bench all joining the local competition. It provides an opportunity for a number of young guns to show their wares.
Bottom line: Coach Craig Caruana hasn't set any pre-season goals and would prefer to see how the season pans out instead. The Storm are one of the greatest unknowns in the competition due to their turnover of players along with new clubs Southern United and Bellingen. How well their young guns make the transition into the CPL will determine their fate.
Coach: Luke Stow
Last season: Finished second on 33 points
Squad news: Along with Coffs City United, the Tigers have had arguably the most stable off-seasons of any club in the competition. Only James Palmer has left from their 2021 squad while they have picked up Christian Mirindi, En Sian Muan Lian and young gun Ptolemy Horan.
Bottom line: The stability provided around the club from 2021 into 2022 should ensure they are again up near the pointy end of the competition. Coffs Coast were one of the surprise packets last season and coach Luke Stow wants his side to reach the next level. He's challenged them - can they meet the standard?
Coach: Robert Fitzgerald
Last season: Finished third on 31 points
Squad news: The Bombers have lost a number of players from their playing squad from their 2021 campaign and how well they are replaced by their up-and-comers will play a big role in their overall success.
Bottom line: Boambee have been one of the stronger performing clubs from the North Coast Football area in the first two seasons of the Coastal Premier League. This season shapes as a rebuilding year for the Bombers after the loss of a number of key players from last season. Their depth will be tested at various stages throughout the year which raises questions about their ability to consistently perform as a team.
Coach: Joe Skrtic
Last season: Finished tenth on 10 points
Squad news: The Scorpions welcome back Angus and Jonas Waern to their squad from last season. Alex Purvis and Hugo Alderman will also join the club who hope to climb off the bottom of the ladder.
Bottom line: Sawtell struggled in 2021 and had the second-worst goal-scoring record with only 26 in 18 games. Only Taree Wildcats scored fewer goals. 2022 looks to be another challenging season, but the experience a number of their more inexperienced players will receive from playing at a higher level will help the club long-term.
Coach: Jason Coleman
Last season: Finished eighth on 18 points
Squad news: Macleay Valley will welcome back Chad Applegate from injury after the striker missed a large portion of last season. Without him up front the Rangers only scored 28 goals in 18 matches. They also welcome back Luke Parkinson, Brad Mainey and Blake Pietch amongst others as they aim to climb the ladder.
Bottom line: The absence of Applegate up front shouldn't be understated. Macleay Valley will be a more formidable force this season with him back in the side along with brother Sam. The Kempsey side has the ability to be one of the surprise packets in 2022.
Coach: Dan Baker and Evan Clarke
Last season: Finished sixth on 25 points
Squad news: Saints have managed to keep the majority of their side from last season, but have lost Harry James and Harry Mainey. Consistency in the playing squad should help them prepare for the season ahead and with the Dan Baker and Evan Clarke again in charge, the players will know what's expected.
Bottom line: Saints had the competition at their mercy at the halfway point in 2021. They went on a hot streak that saw them win five games in six weeks before a late-season fade saw them slip down the ladder. How coaches Dan Baker and Evan Clarke guard against history repeating will be key to their season.
Coach: Henry Gale
Last season: N/A
Squad news: It's unknown how well Henry Gale will be able to pull his new side together, but a number of players have joined forces from Urunga
Bottom line: Bellingen will no doubt aim for a finals berth, but how long it takes coach Henry Gale to get them firing could play a role in how deep they progress into the season. With the number of finals teams extended from four to six, Bellingen will be in the mix but will need to hit the ground running so as to not play catch-up later in the season.
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