South Coast football returns to 'big time'

Wolves players Jordan Murray, Matt Bailey and James Baldacchino are ready to take on the Central Coast Mariners in a FFA Cup match at WIN Stadium on Wednesday night. Picture: SYLVIA LIBER

Wolves players Jordan Murray, Matt Bailey and James Baldacchino are ready to take on the Central Coast Mariners in a FFA Cup match at WIN Stadium on Wednesday night. Picture: SYLVIA LIBER

FOOTBALL

A decade-long absence from the national fray will end for the Illawarra on Wednesday night when South Coast Wolves begin their FFA Cup journey.

The Wolves play their first FFA Cup game in a mouth-watering round-of-32 clash with former A-League champions Central Coast Mariners at WIN Stadium.

It ends an extended hiatus from the national scene after the club was dumped  when the NSL collapsed in 2004.

Since then the club toiled away in the NSW Premier League, where they finished their season in emphatic fashion on Sunday. 

But with no finals football on the horizon, Wednesday’s battle looms as their biggest test.

‘‘This is our grand final,’’ departing Wolves coach Nahuel Arrarte said.

‘‘Leading into it we have had some good results but unfortunately it counts for very little as we are looking at a very different type of opponent.

‘‘We have to make sure that we lift our game again.’’

The Wolves, who won back-to-back titles in the old NSL, have gone from strength to strength since Arrarte took over midway through this campaign.

Yet those results will mean little to the Mariners, one of the A-League’s most consistent sides since the competition’s inception in 2005.

They claimed an elusive title in 2012-13 and will bring several members of their championship-winning squad to Wollongong on Wednesday. 

‘‘We are fully aware we are playing a quality opponent but if we go out there and get overwhelmed by the opponent, obviously we will be in a bit of trouble,’’ Arrarte said. 

‘‘We need to be 100 per cent committed to the cause.’’

The match will be one of the Mariners’s first serious hit-outs this season. 

Phil Moss’s men played a preseason trial against their Academy side and an interclub match heading into the knockout fixture.

But the Mariners boss believes his experienced squad will be up for the occasion.

"We have done a lot of training and they are dying to get out there and play a competitive game of football. So that all bodes well for us," he said.

With heavy rain battering the Illawarra and the South Coast and the Wolves finding form at the right time of year, Central Coast will need to be close to their best, said Moss.

"It is a home game for them and we have got the travel, so we know they won't make it easy for us down there ... we have to bring our A-game on Wednesday night," he said.

"It is a Cup game; they can throw up any number of challenges.

"We have to make sure defensively we are strong and that we take our chances when they present themselves."

The Mariners are set to have most of their regular starting squad available with the possibility of new recruit Malick Mane making his debut.

South Coast will also have a full compliment of players after the squad got through their final hit-out unscathed on Sunday.

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