This weekend’s Round 13 closes out the first half of the season for NPL 1 clubs, and it looks like the two dominant teams from last season, South Melbourne and Bentleigh Greens, continue to be the benchmark of the competition.

That’s certainly the opinion of Green Gully coach Arthur Papas, who commented earlier in the week that South Melbourne remains the benchmark. Papas believes that despite his team climbing to third spot on the table after winning five its last six league matches, he requires additional depth in his squad to launch a serious title challenge to South.

Papas will be able to get a close look at how his team compares to South when Gully hosts South Melbourne in the NPL 1 match of the round today. Following an upset loss to a 10-man Pascoe Vale last weekend, South will be keen to maintain its hold on top spot going into the second half of the season.

Chris Taylor’s team meets a confident Green Gully, which has scored 10 goals in its last two matches including a 5-2 away win at Melbourne Victory last round. Add to that the side’s progression through to Round 7 of the FFA Cup with a midweek cup win over Heidelberg United, and South can expect a strong test. Each team has forwards in fine goal-scoring form, with Lujic heading the league scoring charts, while Gully winger Nick Krousouratis has been finding the net regularly this season.

Meanwhile on Saturday, Cannons’ joint coach Peter Tsiolakis returns to his old stomping ground to take on his struggling former club Northcote City, which will be desperate to avoid another heavy loss after crashing 5-nil last week to Bentleigh Greens. City hosts sixth-placed Oakleigh Cannons, which is looking for consecutive wins following last week’s 1-nil home win against Heidelberg United. With just one win to its name, Northcote’s hopes of survival appear to depend heavily on how successfully it can parachute fresh troops in for the second half of the season.

The month of May has been anything but merry for Heidelberg coach George Katsakis and his team. Hit hard by injuries and suspension, the side is yet to win in the league this month, and also exited the FFA Cup midweek as a result of the 2-nil loss to Gully. Katsakis will be looking for a strong response from his team at the Village on Sunday when it hosts Melbourne Victory. Striker Ken Athiu is available to boost the Bergers’ depleted forward line. The Bergers are keen to get a winning result ahead of the visit of South Melbourne the following week.

In NPL 2 East action on Saturday, third-placed Box Hill United hosts fourth-placed Dandenong City in a battle for third place, behind Kingston City which hosts sixth-placed Brunswick City in a Hellenic derby on Monday evening. Kingston will be keen to keep within reach of league leader Dandenong Thunder, after Kingston dropped points in a 1-1 draw at Goulburn Valley Suns last round. Brunswick will be hoping to bounce back after conceding a late goal in a 1-nil loss at home to Box Hill last week.

In state league SE 1, Malvern City lost its first game of the season 1-2 at Casey Comets last week and then farewelled the FFA Cup with a 4-nil loss to Hume City midweek. It will be looking to put those defeats behind it when it travels to struggling Frankston Pines today. At the same time, sixth-placed FC Clifton Hill, which plundered the Berwick defence last week to the tune of five goals, will get a crack at breaking down a solid Casey defence when the two meet today.

Seventh-placed South Springvale looks to have turned the corner following its poor start to the season, winning 4-nil away to Mooroolbark last week. It hopes to continue its winning streak when it hosts fifth-placed Warragul United today.

Meanwhile in interstate news, Round 12 action in the South Australian NPL sees the return of the derby as West Adelaide Hellas hosts Adelaide Olympic at Angle Park. Both teams sit on equal points just outside the top six.

In Sydney, on Sunday, a struggling Sydney Olympic hosts fellow strugglers Blacktown Spartans in a Round 11 NPL match; both teams will be desperate to win to climb away from the relegation zone. Olympic coach Grant Lee will have to get his side back up after the disappointment of an FFA Cup exit midweek in a 2-1 loss to League leader Sydney United.