NSW PREMIER LEAGUE
Coach Richard Lloyd has delivered a history lesson to the South Coast Wolves squad in preparation for the club’s biggest game since the 2001 National Soccer League grand final.
In little more than a decade, the Wolves have fallen from the glory days at the beginning of the millennium – winning back-to-back NSL titles – to almost folding.
The roller-coaster ride has continued through a nomadic existence and a brief resurgence to claim the 2008 NSW Premier League crown.
Now the Central Coast Mariners Academy must be overcome for the Wolves to stay in the state’s top flight, in not one but three high-stakes battles at Hooka Creek Road tomorrow.
Lloyd has asked his players to embrace the history of the club before they do battle.
‘‘There’s been a few stories written recently about the club’s journey. I wanted to use them as a motivational tool for the boys,’’ Lloyd said.
‘‘We’re the custodians of the club, not just this year, but what’s happened throughout Wollongong and South Coast Wolves history.
‘‘Some of the guys are probably a little bit naive on what the history of the club is all about.
‘‘The club’s role is to provide the junior pathway to higher standards of football; it’s something we pride ourselves on and part of that is being in the top level in NSW.
‘‘We’ve asked all the juniors to come along and support the boys; everyone knows how much getting the right result means.’’
The first-grade team will sweat on the results of the under-18s and 20s games tomorrow as they count to the club championship, which determines relegation.
Wolves are on 137 points, nine behind the Mariners.
Under 18s earn three points for a win and one for a draw and the 20s pick up six for a win and two for a draw.
With 12 on offer in the Premier League clash, Wolves need a result from at least one of the curtain-raisers, or draws in both, to be in the hunt when first grade kicks off. The tactical battle becomes more complex, because the youth grade allows up to four over-age players to line up in the under 20s.
So just how much does it mean to the Wolves players?
‘‘Steve Hayes came and told me if he needs to sit on the bench for youth grade, then he wants to play,’’ he said.
‘‘He’s happy to back up and then play in first grade if it comes to it.
‘‘Steve’s been at the Wolves before, he knows what it means to the club and he’s bought into what we are trying to do this year.’’
Captain Jacob Timpano will set aside a season of injury problems to take his place in the team.
And then there’s striker Ricky Zucco, who could produce a lone thunderbolt to be the difference.
In his first year in charge, Lloyd admits it has been a draining and emotional season, where he has only once put the same team on the field in consecutive weeks.
‘‘I’ve spoken to some more experienced coaches than me and they all say you learn a lot more out of a season like this than you will when the team is flying,’’ he said.
‘‘We’ve had to go through a lot, but out of all of it, we’re still here fighting and still in with a chance.’’
Lloyd admits there’s been a sense of inevitability about the season coming down to the final day.
The rumours persisted all season about Central Coast having an agreement about not dropping to the second tier because they are part of the A-League club’s structure.
However, the same criteria will apply should the Mariners finish last.
The Wolves play their home games on Saturday nights, but the final round has been moved to tomorrow as all games will kick off at the same time.
At the other end of the ladder, Sutherland, Bonnyrigg and Sydney United all have a chance to snatch the league championships on the final day.
But it would be tough to match the drama set to unfold at Berkeley.
Lloyd said that he will adapt his tactical plans as the results unfold throughout the day, knowing the Mariners could be willing to settle for a draw to stay above the Wolves on the ladder.
‘‘There’s a lot of things we will have to think about during the day,’’ he said.
‘‘There may be times in the lower grades and in first grade where we have to take the game to them and try and force a result.
‘‘We’ll just have to adapt as we go.’’