Sunshine Coast Wanderers Head Coach Paul Arnison is under no illusions to the challenges ahead, as the Wanderers prepare for their maiden National Premier Leagues (NPL) Queensland Men’s campaign.
The Englishman guided his side to promotion last year from the Football Queensland Premier League (FQPL), finishing top of the ladder, but insists that retaining their NPL status remains the ultimate objective this season.
“Last season it was an unbelievable achievement to get promoted, but this year will be a massive task,” Arnison said.
“We’re not going to be competing against the likes of Gold Coast Knights, Lions and Brisbane Olympic. With all due respect it will be the teams around us that we will be looking to pick up points against.”
Wanderers finished their pre-season with a 3-0 reverse against Lions FC in the Football Foundation Cup; a game in which Sunshine Coast striker Jeremy Stewart saw his second half penalty superbly saved by Lions keeper Luke Borean, with the score 2-0 at the time.
Despite the defeat, Arnison saw enough from his young team to remain optimistic.
“Looking back at the game, two of the three goals were probably defensive errors from us. The higher you go, the more mistakes you make, you get punished,” Arnison said.
Referencing the saved penalty, Arnison stated he would have backed Stewart – whose 21 goals from as many games last season helped his side secure promotion – to find the net from twelve yards.
“I would have put my house on Jezza to put it away, but credit to the keeper he read it very well, if that goes in for 2-1 it could be a different game. To be honest I thought we were the better team in the second half, and despite only having a few weeks of training, I thought we looked very fit.”
The Wanderers have recruited a number of new signings this year, with some talented youngsters joining from Brisbane Roar Youth, amongst them Arnison’s son Harry, Eze Hawkins and highly-rated midfielder Jye Oakes.
Arnison has no qualms in turning to the younger members of his squad, pointing to the old adage if you’re good enough, you’re old enough. He claims Oakes is one player who could make a real impact in this year’s competition.
“Jye is a great kid, a local boy. He plays in the number ten role. He will get into good areas and will be looking to start attacks off for us. If he can find consistency week in-week out, he will be a top player there’s no doubt about it,” Arnison said.
A right back by trade, Arnison enjoyed a successful professional career in the Football League after being released by Bobby Robson whilst at Newcastle United. He went on to make over 300 appearances for the likes of Darlington, Hartlepool and Carlisle United (where current Brisbane Roar captain Tom Aldred used to clean his boots!).
Arnison points to his six years spent at Carlisle as the most successful time of his career. Here he worked under the now England Under 20 boss Paul Simpson, and he claims he learnt a lot on the art of man management from the former Shrewsbury and Preston manager.
“He would always tell you if you were playing well or not playing well, and what you needed to do to improve. I’ve always tried to keep in contact with him since with the odd text or tweet; Paul was a top guy, on and off the field.”
Wanderers will begin their NPL campaign this Saturday, a week later than planned after their opening fixture – incidentally against the Roar Youth – fell foul to the weather as Ballinger Park was waterlogged.
Arnison knows how important it is to get off to a good start, to avoid falling into the bottom two places and facing a relegation scrap.
“We know its going to be a challenge, but I want to test myself against the best coaches in Queensland, and the players want to test themselves too. As long as we can keep out of the bottom two places, anything else is a bonus.”
Wanderers will get their 2020 NPL Queensland Men’s season underway this Saturday, 15 February at 6pm against Moreton Bay United.
Words: Adam Cattell