The recently crowned NPL 2 West champion will attempt to turn back the hands of time this coming Sunday at Knights Stadium when they go up against NPL 2 East champion Dandenong Thunder to decide the overall NPL 2 Champion for 2017.
As Northcote coach Zelkjo Kuzman explains, “We’re really looking forward to Sunday. We haven’t beaten Thunder since 2013. It’s been a while. So it would be nice to duplicate the success of the Northcote championship winning team of 2013.”
That season, Northcote won their only VPL title and it followed on from Dandenong Thunder’s one and only VPL championship win in 2012. In fact both teams have followed a similar trajectory since winning titles just before the introduction of the NPL. Each failed to flourish in the new NPL, suffering relegation to NPL 2. Both however have proven their resilience and bounced back quickly, in Northcote’s case after just one season.
And Northcote managed to do it with some style, leading throughout in a long 28-game season, from start to finish with a largely rebuilt squad under new coach Kuzman.
Speaking to Neos Kosmos, Kuzman reflected on the season’s success, “It’s a well known fact we were the hunted from Round 1, in top spot all the way through. I don’t think it’s been done at NPL 2 level before. In terms of dealing with that level of expectation, week in week out, knowing that teams are going to play above themselves, all I can feel is a sense of pride with the way the whole club, players, and staff went about their business.”
Kuzman felt that the quality of recruitment was a major factor in the squad gelling so quickly.
“Bringing good people into the club, to buy into not only the football philosophy but our values. I felt if we got the balance right, got the right personnel to play the style of football we wanted to play, we could be a real force.”
Kuzman elaborated on the style of football Northcote focused on developing, “We wanted to control possession. It was a possession-based style of football that is really dictating the terms of play. When we didn’t have the ball, we really put emphasis in controlling the game without the ball. To making play predictable, to ensure we were always working as a unit in a very proactive, positive style of football. Most importantly the high energy and mobility of our team was at the core of all that.”
And so to Sunday’s grand final match against Dandenong Thunder. Despite both teams having achieved the main goal of promotion back to the top tier, coach Kuzman says he and his players are both looking forward to the final and placing a significant amount of importance on it.
“It’s not every week that you get to play for another trophy. For a lot of these players, it’s probably the first time they’ve won a piece of silverware this year. Being able to lift another trophy is very important for this group and for myself. It will be the icing on the cake. But it’s also a celebration of the year that was. Dandy Thunder have had a magnificent year in their conference. We’ve had a really good year as well. We’re looking to enjoy the occasion, number one. But also treat it with a significant amount of importance.”
Kickoff is 5.00 pm tomorrow Sunday 3 September at Knights Stadium, Somers St, Sunshine North, VIC.