After just four rounds, the PS4NPL Tasmania league has already sorted itself into two clear groups that are unlikely to change during the season.
The actual standings within the two groups could change, but it doesn’t look as if any of the bottom four will be able to force themselves into the top-four grouping.
With reigning champions Devonport City going down 3-0 at home at Valley Road to 2015 champions Olympia Warriors, it seems highly likely that the 2017 title will be fought out between Hobart Zebras, South Hobart (champions in 2014) and Olympia Warriors.
I know there are still 17 rounds to play, but it is clear that the pattern for the rest of the season has been set.
Hobart Zebras are the only unbeaten side and have three wins and one draw from their four outings.
Their key victory was the 3-0 triumph over South Hobart.
Zebras have imports in Brazilian goalkeeper Marcello Mercuri, American central defender Nicholas Groenewold, and central defender Imran Lewis, who hails from the Caribbean. His uncle is Sir Viv Richards, the world famous cricketer.
Zebras also fly Mathew Sanders, the former Sunshine and Altona striker, to Tasmania each weekend for their games. Sanders has been a revelation and is scoring freely. If he remains injury free, he could well deliver the title to Zebras.
Second-placed South Hobart started the season well with a 3-0 away win over Olympia Warriors, but their 3-0 loss to Zebras set the alarm bells ringing and they have now brought back Victorian midfielder Caleb Ludlow, who was the inspiration behind their 2014 title success. He has been playing in Melbourne, but immediately answered coach Ken Morton’s call to return and he has been signed on a 12-month contract.
Olympia began their campaign disappointingly, submitting meekly to South Hobart and going down 3-0 on their own artificial pitch at Warrior Park.
The Warriors have picked up since then, however, and Saturday’s 3-0 away win over Devonport was an indication of their intentions under new coach, Ian Shaw.
Their Czech import, striker Jakub Sklenar, has shown he can score goals, while Canberra goalkeeper Jakob Cole is also proving useful.
Canadian midfielder Gavin Hoy has made a slow start after recovering from a broken leg, while star midfielder Shae Hickey is being used mostly as a substitute these days.
Title-holders Devonport City will struggle to retain their title following the departure of coach Peter Savill to Hobart Zebras and Canadian goalkeeper Niko Giantsopoulos to New South Wales. Giantsopoulos was a major reason behind Devonport’s title win and their progress in the FFA Cup and his departure was a huge loss.
New coach Chris Gallo will have his work cut out emulating last season’s historic feats.
The bottom four sides will struggle, and that is already evident.
Northern Rangers, under new coach Lino Sciulli from Launceston City, scored a crucial first win on Saturday when they downed Launceston City 2-1. That lifted them off the foot of the table and into fifth spot.
They have just lost their American goalkeeper, John Connolly, who has decided to return home after just four games.
Clarence United are in their second year in the top flight and scored an important 2-1 win over Launceston City two weeks ago, but they will need to work hard to keep their heads above water.
Launceston City, under new coach Ben Brookfield, are struggling and have just a draw and three defeats to their name so far. They are sure to find the going tough.
One of the biggest disappointments has been Kingborough Lions United, who dropped to last spot on Saturday after going down 6-0 at home at Lightwood Park to Hobart Zebras.
The Lions appointed a 21-year-old coach from Adelaide, Gabriel Markaj, who brought in nine new players from interstate and overseas. At least four regulars from last season have left the club after Markaj introduced a Spartan regime, including 6am training sessions.
He is training four times a week and expects his players to spend up to three sessions a week in the gym. This new regimen has brought no benefits to date and the Lions are rock bottom four games into the season.
Whether the appointment of such a young coach was a wise move is a moot point and the consequences of the decision should unravel in coming weeks.
PS4 NPL Tasmania Standings (As at 1 April 2017)
TEAM……………… P W D L F A Pts
Hobart Zebras…….. 4 3 1 0 16 2 10
South Hobart……… 4 3 0 1 11 4 9
Olympia Warriors….. 4 3 0 1 12 6 9
Devonport City……. 4 2 1 1 10 9 7
Northern Rangers…..4 1 1 2 4 10 4
Clarence United ……4 1 1 2 3 9 4
Launceston City ……4 0 1 3 4 8 1
Kingborough Lions…4 0 1 3 5 17 1