Some key departures from Wollongong Wolves to rival clubs is set to make for some fascinating fixtures as the start of the National Premier League Men's season draws ever closer.
The Wolves will kick-off their NPL NSW season away to Marconi on Saturday, February 17. It will be the team's final season in the competition before moving to the National Second Tier in 2025.
David Carney's troops will face 15 other sides across 30 rounds. One key difference this year from last will be the reintroduction of a top six finals system. In 2023, Wollongong finished seventh.
Key outs include left-back Walter Scott to Macarthur and Tomas Butkovic to US college soccer. Nenad Vekic has also departed as has Ethan Beaven, the latter two to rival NPL clubs.
There are also a couple of Illawarra products playing for other teams, but who are they?
But this season the great unknown is who are the title contenders, the relegation threatened and the crop in the middle?
Whilst there are 16 teams in the competition, the Mercury has identified eight sides that are either the early title contenders, or main rivals to the Wolves in terms of last season's ladder position or are traditional rivals.
Here's how opposing teams have recruited.
The defending champions have recruited well, a scary thought for Wolves and opposing teams. They have brought in the likes of Seiya Kambayashi as a utility player from Manly United.
Another key prospect will be Nick Sullivan from Sutherland, who of course has A-League experience with Western Sydney and Perth.
Jordan Segreto has also signed after a stint with the Mariners academy.
Expect them to challenge for the title once more.
City have picked up a coup in the form of former A-League striker Joey Gibbs from club football in Iceland.
It will be a welcome return after the team were heavily reliant on the likes of Jack O'Brien and Travis Major in 2023. The latter in fact surpassed Gibbs as the club's all-time scorer last year, so expect the two of them to have a healthy rivalry in 2024.
Mitch Malia is also back which is nothing short of a miracle after he retired at the beginning of last season due to injury.
Other key members of their squad will be flashy attacker Danny Choi as well as youngster Julian Rodriguez from the junior set-up.
The Wolves first opponent.
It wouldn't be the Stallions without their talisman skipper Marko Jesic leading the line, who will be a key threat for Carney's men.
Their major new signing is James Temelkovski from NPL South Australia winners North Eastern MetroStars. He looks to be a more than capable replacement for the club's golden boot in 2023, Jordi Swibel.
Look out for 18-year-old Jonathan Soares at the base of midfield. He could be a breakout star.
Two big losses for them are brothers Roberto and Giorgio Sperenza to Rockdale.
Speaking of the City Suns, the Sperenza brothers will add experience to their defensive line which was exposed by the Wolves in a 4-0 rout last season.
The signing of St George midfielder Dean Pelekanos may also prove crucial, but perhaps the best re-signing of the off-season is that of Alec Urosevski, last season's golden boot winner with 26 goals.
The Sharks, a major rival for the Wolves, have plucked a couple of former players in defender Beaven and reserve goalkeeper Vekic.
These players jumping ship should make games between the two sides even more intriguing.
They have also picked up the likes of skilful number 10 Mason Fernandez from Western Sydney.
The Wolves and Sydney FC put on an entertaining clash at WIN Stadium last year, with the home side coming away 6-2 winners.
When the sides play keep an eye out for Wataru Kamijo. He has been lighting it up in pre-season.
Dapto's Zac De Jesus and Stanwell Park's Gus Hoefsloot are also listed to play NPL this season after A-League experience, making games against the Wolves extra special for them.
It was a disappointing campaign for Olympic in 2023. They have kept experienced heads Roy O'Donovan and Ziggy Gordon whilst also bringing back one of their own in George Timotheou.
Part of their premiership/championship double winning team, Timotheou earned a move to Schalke in Germany. He has also spent time with Adelaide and Melbourne Victory in the A-League.
George Antonis and Teng Kuol from WSW NPL should also re-energise the group.
It was a disappointing NPL campaign for Sydney United after the highs of an Australia Cup final.
They have lost legends of the club such as Glen Trifiro and Chris Payne, expect a squad built with one eye on the upcoming National Second Tier in 2025 under new coach Zeljko Kalac.
Other clubs not listed:
Central Coast, Hills United, Manly United, NWS Spirit, St George City, St George, Western Sydney.
For the full draw, click here.