Phillip Joel Hughes – An athlete at all times

Phillip Joel Hughes played for Australia, New South Wales, South Australia, Hampshire, Middlesex, and Worcestershire in cricket’s top two tiers. Extrapolating out playing squads and coaching staff in each of those teams, a conservative estimate of at least 120 cricketers would have played with Hughes for a reasonable length of time to an extent that they could be considered to know him well. I cannot. During my media roles I never interviewed him, so this is not a reflection piece which will contain any new insight or nice story from myself about the forever not out left-hander. Rather, it is a reflection on how I viewed him through the prism most cricket fans did – television, radio and Cricinfo live commentary text.

Hughes was a cricketer I admired because he was a cricketer focused on core values, one who came through the key pathways of the game. A member of three county teams during his career, he made his name as an international in test cricketer. He was not parachuted into a stand-alone T20 fixture on a random weeknight, leaving me to have to look up online to remind myself if he played for Victoria or Western Australia. Hughes was a product of why I watched cricket, for the ebb and flow of longer formats which could include ten highs and ten lows and that was just over the course of one day of play for either side.

This is not a slight on players who make their name in shorter formats, but to say that I feel his death is more significant because he made his name on cricket’s biggest stage, so had ‘earned’ his accolades without the slightest hint of feeling (as least from afar) that the game owed him.

Hughes became the punchline in the summer of 2011/12 when he was ‘Caught Guptill, Bowled Martin’ on four occasions, leading to one of the times he would be dropped from the Australian test side. The situations over the course of the series against the Kiwis saw much hilarity with my friends in New Zealand, as we sent text messages back and forth to share in our enthusiasm about the ease of dismissing an Australia batsman, a rare occurrence. It also became the point I used to goad my Australian friends on social media about, knowing full well it wouldn’t last and that Hughes was merely suffering a blip in what was going to be an international career which would see him, at a bare minimum, become a solid citizen of the Australia test side and play well over 50 tests.

From his test debut in 2009 to his one-day international bow in 2013, Hughes thrilled with his unorthodox technique at international level as he had done in record fashion at state level.

It became a regular theme upon his test recalls that his ‘basic flaws’ were apparently holding him back. However as Nick Compton, his one-time Middlesex teammate, wrote in the Independent in 2009 Hughes’ batting guru Neil D’Costa told him “Phil remains an athlete at all times.” D’Costa continued, “A player who follows technique and its finer intricacies can very easily become mechanical. I remind him that this is sport and it requires athletic ability.”

Phillip Joel Hughes of Macksville, New South Wales, used all of that athletic ability. 26 tests, 25 one-day internationals and one fair dinkum humble cricketer.

A-League 1,000: The Winners Play Friday edition

1,000-ish words, thoughts and musings on the coming weekend’s A-League action.

Melbourne Victory v Adelaide United, Friday – AAMI Park

Friday night’s game is the only one this weekend featuring two last-start winners. These traditional A-League rivals are probably set to meet in the finals so will be well attuned with each other by season’s end. The Victory got lucky to an extent against Brisbane but the ability to win in such a game bodes well for coach Kevin Muscat.

Big game for: Psychological pressure. A win here for either side will send them top of the ladder, in the case of Melbourne this would be on goal difference. This would see Perth needing a result the following night to maintain top spot. Even this early out, nothing like a top of the table battle.

The ‘I’m really looking forward to’ bit: Despite how long the shortlist was/is for the Yokohama job, Josep Gombau still has to prove himself as a manager by winning something. The next fortnight or so is big for the Spaniard, can he keep his team in form?

Brisbane Roar v Perth Glory, Saturday –Suncorp Stadium

Where does one start with the Brisbane Roar? Whatever Mike Mulvey’s failings were (and they appear to be plentiful) he was able to secure the first-past-the-post and finals wins for Brisbane this year and the manner of his sacking is poor at best. A match that would have been a ‘nailed on’ win in recent years for the Roar could easily be a 3-0 home defeat. This game itself is important but Brisbane will be hoping they can turn around their effort or the 2015 Asian Champions League could be embarrassing for the Queenslanders results-wise and costly for the club’s Indonesian owners from a financial standpoint.

Big game for: The Brisbane leadership clique. Unrest among a group of senior players was one of the reported key elements to Mulvey’s departure, so they need to shoulder a level of responsibility to carry this team for the next few months. This will include a large amount of tactical planning given the lack of knowledge their interim boss Frans Thijssen has admitted to having of the A-League

The ‘I’m really looking forward to’ bit: The reaction of the Brisbane fans. The small section of #mulveyout fans have gotten their way as have others, but if it’s Perth 3 Roar 0 after 90 minutes, the reaction could be interesting.

Western Sydney Wanderers V Sydney FC, Saturday – Pirtek Stadium

That Sydney FC have managed to already develop their new recruits/rookies this season to a high performing level so early on is a tribute Graham Arnold and a good point for A-League clubs hell bent on hiring foreign coaches who lack local knowledge about the type of players who will be successful in the A-League. Tony Popovic has resorted to the relatively unusual practice of half-time replacements in recent weeks, hopefully the non-ACL players start to find form.

Big game for: Wanderers attack. If not for an audacious bit of Marcos Flores skill, the Wanderers would have won last weekend. This side can defend well and that effectiveness will return but they need goals to boost their flagging goal difference and ladder position.

The ‘I’m really looking forward to’ bit: No-one getting assaulted on match-day. The Newcastle Herald reported on a Jets fan who was bashed by some people identifying themselves as Wanderers fans in the car park of Parramatta Stadium last Saturday evening. Here is the on-line link to Crime Stoppers of the NSW Police Force http://www.police.nsw.gov.au/can_you_help_us/crime_stoppers

Wellington Phoenix v Melbourne Sheep Cow Whale Ships, Sunday – Westpac Stadium

Warming up before their loss last week, Melbourne’s import Robert Koren looked sharp completing the two passes I saw on the Fox Sports coverage with an assistant coach. Sadly he, again, didn’t feature for the home side who lost despite late drama. Back at home after their big jaunt to the West Island, the Phoenix will be keen for a win to bank at least something from the back end of November after failing to play to the end in Adelaide before losing to Perth.

Big game for: Michael McGlinchey. The return of the Mac after international duty and the birth of his additional wee wee Mac will help the home side against a light blue outfit that’s lack of communication was shown up by Bernie Ibini last weekend.

The ‘I’m really looking forward to’ bit: The EPL-snobs in New Zealand getting to the Cake Tin. Sure there’s no David Villa, but the Wellingtonians who may not be A-League fans but follow the EPL get to watch former Chelsea man Damien Duff, one of his side’s best performers this season.

Newcastle Jets v Central Coast Mariners, Sunday – Hunter Stadium

Since Mitchell Duke jagged a late goal at Sauce Bottle Stadium in Phil Stubbins’ A-League coaching debut the Mariners haven’t won in the league and the Jets are still yet to win. Out of last weekend, the Mariners were sunk by a poor period just before the break against Adelaide, whereas the Jets were solid with yet again an unsettled side against the Wanderers. Due to players returning from injury like Scott Neville, the Jets look likely to change their starting line-up again, but they do seem to be gelling marginally better compared to a fragmented Mariners outfit who have failed to adjust to the loss of the afore-mentioned McGlinchey.

Big game for: The away team. Sometimes an away loss is acceptable but not when it’s a Derby. The Mariners were clearly a better side on paper two months ago but since then the Jets, whilst yet to win, have at least held leads against sides like the Victory.

The ‘I’m really looking forward to’ bit: A big crowd after a big day in the capital of the Hunter. The morning of the game sees the charity fun run (a real one – not one of those other ‘charity’ fun runs) Run Newcastle take place. So after running and sweating together the locals can jump and scream together.

 

The betting bit, one serious one not

Wellington $2.20 @ TAB to win at home into a reference of ‘the troubled premiers’ within five minutes of #brivper kicking off.

Record: 4/7 Back on track with Sydney in what turned out to be the bet of the season to date.

Profit: 23 units (based on ten unit investment.)

A-League 1,000: The Up All Night edition

1,000-ish words, thoughts and musings on the midweek and coming weekend’s A-League action.

Western Sydney Wanderers v Central Coast Mariners, Wednesday – Parramatta Stadium

Nikita Rukavytsya could be key for the Wanderers in the coming three weeks as Tony Popovic looks to rotate his strikers prior to the Club World Cup, and he is set to play a key role in this game between two sides that have struggled defensively this season. Getting the Ukrainian in form and making him another crowd favourite in the west could take some pressure off Tomi Juric.

Big game for: Michael Neill. Looking to cement a starting spot for the coast, Neill has featured as part of the rotating backline during the season. He was solid in Melbourne on Sunday but needs to perform consistently in a misfiring team.

The ‘I’m really looking forward to’ bit: Will the Wanderers burst through a banner of Ronald McDonald to celebrate the home debut of the Wanderers meal?

Melbourne Victory v Brisbane Roar, Friday – The Melbourne ground we don’t like

Besart Berisha gets to host his old side after the Victory failed to kill off Sydney FC at Moore Park last weekend in a game which saw both sides wasteful. Melbourne’s returning national team representatives should start to gel again and the best thing about the busy last two weeks for those severely affected by international play is that the navy blue have managed to stay unbeaten which should please Kevin Muscat.

Big game for: Brisbane’s emotions. Just as overreacting to a loss isn’t good, it’s not helpful to overreact to a win. Neither their loss to Melbourne’s newer side nor their win over Newcastle were as bad or good as they look, and Mike Mulvey will need to bring his side down to earth.

The ‘I’m really looking forward to’ bit: Home game in Melbourne. Friday night, big stage, at least a double for Berisha?

Perth Glory v Wellington Phoenix, Friday -nib Stadium

More people attended an A-League game than one of the international cricket fixtures in Perth last weekend. What a great sign for the A-League and a show of confidence in a club that was in crisis 12 months ago. Kenny Lowe’s side are exciting fans home and away and it’s a really great match in prospect.

Big game for: Michael McGlinchey. With the All Whites now without international games until March, this is the time the Phoenix can really make hay and their diminutive playmaker is the type of player that could take on a Perth outfit who could be starting to fatigue given travel and their FFA Cup run.

The ‘I’m really looking forward to’ bit: The TV ratings for this game in New Zealand. Kiwi football fans have suffered through a week of late nights watching their teams, including the All Whites in actions. A 12:30am start time for a loss to lowly Thailand is enough to make any fan think “I’ll skip the next late night.” Will the Phoenix be the victims of this?

Western Sydney Wanderers v Newcastle Jets, Saturday – Parramatta Stadium

Even this early, the Jets look awful. When chasing the game last week, Phil Stubbins elected to leave what most would term his ‘key playmaker’ Marcos Flores on the bench. What does that tell you about the faith he has in the off-season recuit?

Big game for: Newcastle’s new faces. It remains the responsibility of the recruits to turn Newcastle around, so it’s up to Billy Celeski with more match time to link better with his new team-mates.

The ‘I’m really looking forward to’ bit: Newcastle at least making some sensible decisions in defence. Playing Kew Jaliens out wider in defence appears to be folly.

Melbourne Sheep Cow Whale Ships v Sydney FC, Saturday – AAMI Park

New name, same old team. Playing at home against a side apparently stricken by in-fighting who had been tipped out of the Cup in midweek and leading 2-0 late on should have been a slam dunk for the locals but it wasn’t and I still can’t work out why.

Big game for: Melbourne’s backs. Like Newcastle, they need to shore up their defence. It’s possible to back into the A-League playoffs on the back of good home form, such is the nature of a competition when more than half the sides make the finals. A draw is at least the minimum requirement.

The ‘I’m really looking forward to’ bit: Seeing marc Janko in action. All the above said, a big note this week for Sydney was off the park when Marc Janko declined to play against Brazil to return early and train for Graham Arnold’s side in advance of this game.

Central Coast Mariners v Adelaide United, Sunday – Sauce Bottle Stadium

Adelaide face the Mariners for the second time this month and the home side could have rotated players depending on their Wednesday night performance. A rested Adelaide with plenty of time to prepare and travel are the polar opposite of the last time Adelaide travelled to the coast early last season and were still effectively ‘playing in their pre-season’ as the side adjusted to Josep Gombau’s style.

Big game for: Mitchell Duke. The one-time Socceroo must surely be an outside hope to feature in the Asian Cup if the national team’s talisman Tim Cahill goes down. It’s time he starts delivering for the club consistently.

The ‘I’m really looking forward to’ bit: A reversal of the weather forecast. I hate when people talk, tweet, analyse weather too much but 37 degrees Celsius with predicted rain on the coast is just yuck. Let’s hope it’s not that bad.

 

The betting bit – one serious one not

Sydney FC $2.75 @ TAB to win in Melbourne into at least three cutaway shots in the first half of #wswvccm to that annoying in-crowd camera of the RBB.

Record: 3/6 We are now on three losing weeks and in back to back weeks we have gone off a week early on a team, Brisbane then Wellington so we are sticking fat with the Sky Blues.

Profit: 5.5 Units (Based on 10 unit investment each week)

Five Metre Gap – Four Nations Week Four #4nationsfinal

Like the way of the five metre gap in defence, reviewing the points you may have missed from the final of the Four Nations to wrap up the top flight of rugby league for 2014.

More than one Australian media outlet has noted Sione Mata’utia may have been denied a crucial try in the dying stages on the Kiwis 22-18 win in Wellington. So just in case they missed it… it’s worth remembering in the final five minutes the lead up to Ben Hunt dotting down was at best ‘dubious.’ As the kids say on twitter #sorrynotsorry.

For long stages in the encounter at Westpac Stadium the New Zealand interchange forwards looked to be the best players on the park. Before his second half neck injury Martin Taupau, along with Greg Eastwood and Tohu Harris were amongst the most impactful players on the park. What’s especially notable about that is Harris may not have been in the final squad should Sonny Bill Williams have stayed in rugby league whilst Greg Eastwood looked on the outer as an international player at times in the last few years and has, in club football, only showed brief flashes of the form which secured him a bid deal to join Leeds back in 2010 before wrist injuries curtailed his return to the Bulldogs in 2011.

Did Australia’s playmaker convention in the halves pay off? Hard to say definitively given the final was so close but it’s worth considering the impact the two Queensland playmakers in Daly Cherry-Evans and Cooper Cronk had on the match. Storm halfback Cronk had an off night (when is the last time he kicked out on the full in a big match?) but Manly’s Cherry-Evans was a livewire in attack. However was Cronk used to playing/training with Johnathan Thurston in recent years in Australian/Queensland camps/matches such that he is still working on his combination with the Sea Eagles halfback-come-pivot?

During the Four Nations plenty of debate surrounded the use of two referees in the NRL versus one in most other formats of rugby league worldwide. What put this debate in context at Westpac Stadium was that the crucial decisions over forward passes or otherwise in the final five minutes of the match were primarily made by the linesman up with play as much as the one central official. Let’s not forget the linesman have a key role to play in refereeing the game as well.

Throwing in my two cents for the way forward for international rugby league in the southern hemisphere I propose fixtures on the evenings of State of Origin next year to act as lead-up games. Whilst I understand some people may feel it demeans international games to be played before Origin games on an evening of matches it is, potentially, already a captive rugby league viewing market in terms of television audience. The following could see a combination of Cook Islands, Fiji, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Samoa and Tonga should play fixtures in New Zealand cities Eg. Origin 1: New Zealand v Cooks Islands – Dunedin, Origin 2: Tonga v Fiji – Wellington, Origin 3: Papua New Guinea v Samoa – Auckland. Just a thought and just a start, but do we have time to arrange this? Over to you mysterious new RLIF boss.

@hamishneal

A-League 1,000: The turnaround edition

1,000-ish words, thoughts and musings on the coming weekend’s A-League action.

With teams on quick back-ups from FFA Cup action and three teams still in search of a week after five weeks of action it’s a weekend for turnarounds.

Newcastle v Brisbane, Friday – Hunter Stadium

The addition of Adrian Madaschi to the heart of the locals backline could assist Newcastle to lock down their goals against a misfiring Brisbane outfit. The Roar are shuffling the deck chairs in their midfield with the influential Thomas Broich set to move to the middle. Speaking of midfield the home debut of Billy Celeski could prove a difference-maker for Newcastle who really need a win before fans lose interest. A win could ensure a big crowd for the F3/M1 derby against the also slow-starting Mariners later this month.

Big game for: Newcastle’s recruits. At best the returning crop of players are solid for the Jets so if they are to perform well in 2014/15 and challenge for the playoffs it will be the likes of Madashci and Celeski who will raise the game for the locals.

The ‘I’m really looking forward to’ bit: Red button anyone? Can we please have the ‘player cam’ back on Shane Stefanutto so we catch all the blow-ups throughout the 90 minutes?

Adelaide v Wellington, Saturday – Beer Sauce Burger Stadium

Missing a host of All Whites the Phoenix have still been able to retain some of their core Kiwi unit with New Zealand national team coach Anthony Hudson electing not to call on keeper Glen Moss and defender Andrew Durante for this set of friendlies. Coming off FFA Cup semi-final victory Adelaide could elect to rest some players as they are not as greatly impacted by the A-League playing through the international window. Josep Gomabu will be filthy Adelaide conceded two goals and one of them late at their home fortress.

Big game for: Phoenix consistency, often Wellington can jag a home win in seasons past but would then fail to back it up by losing the following week away from home. Adelaide are in form but may have an eye on their coming FFA Cup final, and their run at home has to end sometime

The ‘I’m really looking forward to’ bit: Jeremy Brockie is apparently out the door according to a News Corp Australia story which could mean the return of Paul fill who is training with the ‘Nix currently. This match could provide somewhat of a window into who the key bench impact forward is for Ernie Merrick. We think it may be Roy Krishna

Sydney FC v Melbourne Victory, Saturday – Allianz Stadium

With some key international players missing for both sides this match has been down-graded from the ‘Big Blue’ to the ‘Light Blue.’ Oddly a car crash kept Terry Antonis in Autralia but he is still missing for Graham Arnold’s side. Sydney were a car crash at times last season but they face a Melbourne side missing key players who, despite clawing a draw in Newcastle recently, have to eventually suffer missing ley players.

Big game for: Bernie Ibini, the sometime Socceroo gets a chance to shine with some of his teammates away on international duty.

The ‘I’m really looking forward to’ bit: Post match media conference, over/under third questions sees a reference to international breaks from Graham Arnold. Yes Arnie we get your point but, sadly, you seem to be preaching to the converted.

Perth Glory v Western Sydney Wanderers, Saturday – nib Stadium

#perthmentum After ruining the FFA Cup by knocking out Bentleigh Greens (insert souvlaki reference here) the Perth Glory shoot for a third win in three states in the space of seven days when they host the Wanderers on Saturday. The Wanderers will be hoping they don’t concede any cheap fouls near the penalty area given the red-hot form of the Glory’s Serbian import Nebojsa Marinkovic.

Big game for: Tony Popovic, with under a month until their Club World Cup the Wanderers need a block of good results to ‘build a bank’ of points so to speak before they head to Morocco.

The ‘I’m really looking forward to’ bit: Perth fans showing their faith. They have been duded to a point with the FFA allocating Adelaide the FFA Cup final without so much as a novelty draw in sight so I hope Perth fans get out to show the type of crowd they can draw for a big game.

Melbourne Sheep Cow Whale Ships v Central Coast, Sunday – AAMI Park

Like Sydney losing Alessandro Del Piero did the focus on David Villa distract this team? John van’t Schip’s side won in Brisbane and looked to be free of expectation. With pressure continuing to mount on the Mariners it could be a really interesting turnaround considering the last time these two sides met in Melbourne the Mariners were finals-bound and the Heart could only attract 5,418 fans.

Big game for: Whoever starts for the Mariners, with the Central Coast now out of the FFA Cup Phil Moss needs not to worry about rotating his squad for a few months. The former assistant to Graham Arnold has already shown he is not afraid to drop/rest players so any poor performances can expect to see players axed the following week.

The ‘I’m really looking forward to’ bit: The crowd, as we noted earlier in the season the likes of Sydney and Melbourne Victory were never going to be an issue for the home side in terms of drawing big crowds but with this game on a Sunday afternoon with Melburnians possibly suffering ‘event fatigue’ from the Spring Carnival and other big events anything over 8,000 is probably a good result.

The betting bit one serious one not

Sydney $2.35 @ TAB to keep up their good home record this season (particular if  Matthieu Delpierre is absent for the Victory) into Mike Mulvey looking cranky on the sideline Friday night at Hunter Stadium, even if Brisbane score a goal.

Record: 3/5, two losing weeks and heading into an international weekend #treadcarefully

Profit: 15.5 Units (Based on 10 unit investment each week)

Five Metre Gap – Four Nations Week Three

Like the way of the five metre gap in defence, reviewing the points you may have missed from the third weekend of rugby league’s international showpiece in 2014.

This column has noted the impact of Lewis Brown off the bench early in the Four Nations and I think the Kiwis won’t lose much if anything now that Thomas Leuluai is out injured for the Westpac Stadium showpiece. Brown has been pivotal for a New Zealand side whose spine players are starting to combine well. Pita Hiku is at fullback as he was in the ANZAC Test in May when Australia won 30-18. Notably the five-eighth in that match for New Zealand was Tohu Harris and Ben Henry started in the dummy half role.

By way of comparison Australia are without Billy Slater and Johnathan Thurston in this decider in their 1,6,7,9 spine from that match in Sydney, although Greg Inglis was playing at centre in that fixture which New Zealand was leading with three tries in the first 26 minutes before the Kangaroos ran out 12-point winners. When compared to the Four Nations opener which saw New Zealand dot down three times the May test saw New Zealand struggle for consistency throughout the game.

It’s interesting that Tim Sheens has named Robbie Farah in the 17 for the Kangaroos, granted it is an expanded bench but Bronco Ben Hunt has combined well with Cameron Smith to date in the competition in the utility role. The duo helped to secure a crucial try against England and the set play came into effect against Samoa in Wollongong on Sunday. There was a rumour Daly Cherry-Evans had a niggle prior to the game at Win Stadium with Dean Ritchie reporting on Sky Sports Radio the morning of the game that the absence of the Manly playmaker would have meant Greg Inglis would have shifted to 5/8 with Matt Moylan coming on in debut. If the concern is lingering for Cherry-Evans could Tim Sheens start Farah at nine in the decider with Cameron Smith going to pivot? However this may all be dependent on how the players including Cherry-Evans and Cooper Cronk, who are affected by a virus, are feeling by Friday.

Despite their tournament exit England have plenty to build on for the next World Cup. With their spine young and improving, think 21 year-old Steve Prescott Man of Steel winner Daryl Clark, Steve McNamara’s side have plenty of potential but they did so after the last World Cup (which admittedly Clark wasn’t playing in.) England might have been the only team not to have progressed in the 12 months since the tournament in the UK. Yes England lost Sam Burgess but remember Australia and New Zealand have been shorn of a host of ‘first teamers’ as well.

Samoa had the required motivation and skill to win their mid-year ‘qualifier’ against Fiji and were in tournament final contention heading into their last game in Wollongong which was a remarkable turnaround from their World Cup quarter exit which came at the hands of the Fijians in Warrington. A few more level-headed options by playmaker Ben Roberts in their last two games could have seen Samoa secure a win or at least a closer margin in each of those respective games. Their key now will be finding meaningful fixtures which will fall to the new RLIF boss, whenever they are appointed.

@hamishneal

A-League 1,000: The quirky draw edition

1,000 ish words thoughts and musings on the coming weekend’s A-League action.

As the Jets play at home for the first team this season the Wanderers are back after a fortnight off to meet a side who can’t play in the Asian Champions League.

Wellington Phoenix v The Champions of Asia, FridayWestpac Stadium

Ironically the Wanderers’ return to the A-League is against the one side in the competition that can’t qualify for the Asian Champions League due to it’s confederation status. Weird huh? The Wanderers will likely rest players in the coming fortnight (they have already lost Brendon Santalab for an extended period) given they have this trip to the Cake Tin followed by a trip to Perth. Ernie Merrick changed it up for the first time this season and his old side held out Wellington to get the points. Jeremy Brockie should have scored at least once and Nathan Burns should have even morer (yes I know it’s not a word) and given the Phoenix have actually beaten the Wanderers in 2014 (January 1) to be précis Wellington are a good chance to win here and secure the default Asian Champions League title. But they then might have to playoff against Adelaide City, or Bentleigh Greens. I have confused myself now.

Big game for: The afore-mentioned Jeremy Brockie. Looking for a run of goals to keep up with his new teammate, and having come off the bench on Monday evening the All Whites forward would like to find the net here.

The ’I‘m really looking forward to’ bit: The welcome for the Wanderers. I’m sure the club and fans of Wellington will acknowledge the achievement of Asia’s top club side in a memorable fashion.

Adelaide United v Sydney FC, FridayBeer Sauce Burger Stadium

In an early season re-match the two combatants from an FFA Cup quarter final square off in Adelaide, where a loss for either side will represent their first for the season. Graham Arnold did a great job motivating his charges for the match-up against his old side and he need only look at the Allianz Stadium extra-time match to spark his players for this game. With Socceroos selections made midweek, Sydney will have some rewarded individuals looking to further prove their claims.

Big game for: Corey Gamiero. As we have already stated this column is a huge fan of the one-time Nix player and his elevation to the Olyroos squad is just reward. But to reward Graham Arnold and his team due to his impending break from club duties a goal wouldn’t go astray.

The ’I‘m really looking forward to’ bit: Nikola Petkovic returns to face Adelaide and the first tackle should be tasty.

Newcastle Jets v Melbourne Victory, SaturdayHunter Stadium

In a weekend of quirky draw fixtures the Novocastrians play their first home match for the season. As was expected last weekend the Jets reshuffled their line-up and a win in Perth looked likely until Phil Stubbins’ side was ambushed late in the game. The indefinite leave for imported midfielder Jonny Steele leaves Stubbins down on troops but the former Adelaide assistant needs to establish his best side and do it quickly before things get worse in Newcastle or the only winning side Hunter Stadium faithful might see this summer is AFC Challenge Cup winners Palestine.

Big game for: Nathan Coe. The maligned Melbourne shot-stopper had a less then great performance here in late 2012 when debuting for the club, as the Victory were sent home 2-1 losers thanks for an Emile Heskey double. Seems a lifetime ago doesn’t it?

The ’I‘m really looking forward to’ bit: The Newy Boys and squadron will return to the friendly confines of their home ground, not counting the FFA Cup tie held next door at Magic Park. A newly re-laid pitch but the same diehard fans who deserve a medal for their support.

Brisbane Roar v Melbourne Sheep Cow Whale Ships, SaturdaySuncorp Stadium

Four sides are winless in the A-League and two of these sides meet in the Queensland capital on Saturday night. Even this early in the season a loss for either side is likely to see calls along the lines of sack the manager but hopefully common-sense prevails whatever the result. Matt McKay returning for the Roar is significant and the Socceroo has a certain point to prove his fitness to national team boss Ange Postecoglou.

Big game for: ‘Come to Melbourne and carry our team’. I’m pretty sure that wasn’t the pitch Damien Duff got when he was recruited to head to Melbourne but that is what the English Premier League winner has been lumped with. Good luck lad.

The ’I‘m really looking forward to’ bit: A response from Brisbane. The home side need to start winning soon as the #mulveyout crew will surely return if the Roar can’t beat the hapless Heart. The former Gold Coast United boss should have at least three years credit due to his A-League record but fan power can do funny things to football clubs.

Central Coast Mariners v Perth Glory, Sunday – Sauce Bottle Stadium

Perth got a bonus win of sorts defeating Newcastle with their come-from-behind triumph so they are after bonus points in this fixture against one of their fellow FFA Cup semi-finalists. The match presents an interesting challenge for both sides as their FFA Cup semis were only confirmed on Wednesday so any set team thoughts of Kenny Lowe and Phil Moss may be tweaked to perhaps save some bench players for the midweek knockout fixtures. Andy Keogh is a doubt so would Lowe save him for the midweek game against an NPL side in a tournament which he has a great strike-rate in? My hunch is Keogh comes off the bench against the Mariners. Central Coast could also potentially spell players such as Kim off the pine again on Sunday and the return of Liam Reddy is significant for a defence which has chopped and changed to start the season.

Big game for: Central Coast. After an iffy start to the season two wins in four days could turn it all around a home win followed by an away Cup triumph could spur the club on and give the players a real confidence boost.

The ’I‘m really looking forward to’ bit: The response to Danny Vukovic. Yes the former Mariner has played at the ground before but the game needs a panto villain after it was Michael McGlinchey last time. “He’s behind you!”

The betting bit – one serious one not

Brisbane $2.00 @ TAB to chalk up their first win for the season into a Yellow Fever created tifo of ‘ If we beat you give us the trophy’ at the Wanderers game.

Record: 3/4, the run had to end

Profit: 25.5 Units (Based on 10 unit investment each week)

@hamishneal