Who are the 32 clubs bidding to play in the new National Second Division?

Thirty-two aspirants from across Australia – Tasmania to the ACT – have expressed an interest in joining Football Australia’s proposed National Second Division. Sacha Pisani profiles them.

There are some former NSL teams, joint ventures and even the backing of an NRL club – but who are the 32 NSD hopefuls eagerly waiting to discover if they made made the shortlist ahead of the league’s March 2024 kick-off?

READ: ‘It will be expensive to compete at a national level’ – Clubs warned over National Second Division costs

KEEPUP provides an insight into the bidders.

Australian Capital Territory

Canberra Croatia

Formerly known as Canberra Deakin, the team from the nation’s capital has given us some famous names over the years. From Socceroos great Ned Zelic and Sydney FC head coach Ante Juric, to Western United’s Steven Lustica and Croatian legend Josip Simunic.

Led by Dean Ugrinic, Canberra claimed their 25th league Championship last season. They will begin their title defence against O’Connor Knights on April 1 in NPLM Capital Football.

Gungahlin United

They are the team that fell short against Canberra Croatia in last season’s NPLM Capital Football Grand Final – 2-1.

Brisbane Roar and Olyroos member Kai Trewin emerged from Gungahlin, who are heading into the 2023 season with a new coach. Chris Caggiano takes charge having previously worked as assistant coach and head coach of the Under-23 side. On April 2, they face Tuggeranong United in their season opener.

New South Wales

APIA Leichhardt

NSL premiers and champions in 1987 under icon Rale Rasic, APIA have a proud history like so many others. One of the notable names to previously play for the 1966 Australia Cup winners is Charlie Yankos.

Now competing in NPLM NSW, APIA last won the Championship in 2019. Through five rounds of the 2023 season, Franco Parisi’s side are third and one point adrift of top spot.

Blacktown City

They are the reigning NPLM NSW champions and a breeding ground for the likes of Socceroos captain Mathew Ryan, Keanu Baccus and Scott Jamieson. Footballing royalty in the form of Manchester United legend Sir Bobby Charlton made an appearance for Blacktown in the 80s.

Eyeing back-to-back titles with Mark Crittenden at the helm, Blacktown have won three of their opening five games to be two points behind the leaders in New South Wales.

Fraser Park

Unlike the other NSD hopefuls from NSW, Fraser Park don’t play in the state’s top tier. Instead, they are participants in the Football News South Wales League Two competition – the third division.

Fraser Park, who recently opened their upgraded facilities with Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese in attendance, are 11th through four matches this term. With just one win, they are 11 points behind leaders Nepean under Alex Araujo, who previously worked with Sydney FC’s junior academy.

Marconi Stallions

A founding member of the NSL and four-time champions, Marconi have produced at least six former Socceroos captains, while former Italy striker and Inter Hall of Famer Christian Vieri also came through the junior ranks. Their youth products also include legends Harry Kewell, Mark Schwarzer and Paul Okon.

These days, the Stallions are in NPLM NSW and Peter Tsekenis’ men are already five points behind the leading pack heading into round six.

Rockdale Ilinden

The 2020 NPLM NSW premiers have big aspirations with Paul Dee leading the first team.

Rockdale last reached the Grand Final in 2013, after finishing outside the finals places last season on goal difference.

In 2022-23, the club once again have former Sydney FC striker Alec Urosevski at the front, while ex-Macarthur FC Frenchman Loic Puyo is also part of the squad, who are only second on goal difference.

Sutherland Sharks/Cronulla Sharks

“It was one name that brought a smile to my face when I saw it – it caught me off guard, actually,” James Johnson said as the CEO and Football Australia were “taken by surprise” when the NRL’s Cronulla Sharks were revealed as part of a joint NSD bid.

NPLM NSW outfit Sutherland Sharks and Cronulla Sharks are teaming up to be part of the new national second-tier competition.

This season, Damir Prodanovic – who previously worked with Western Sydney Wanderers’ youth teams – has overseen one win and four defeats from the club’s first five fixtures of the campaign.

Sydney Olympic

They are the reigning NPLM NSW premiers, led by former A-Leagues striker Roy O’Donovan.

One of their most famous sons is none other than the Socceroos’ all-time leading goalscorer Tim Cahill. Then there’s Pablo Cardozo, Brett Emerton, Andy Bernal, Nick Carle and Clint Bolton. Liverpool icon Ian Rush made a handful of appearances for Olympic before retiring in 1999-2000.

This season, ex-Newcastle Jets and Wanderers forward Labinot Haliti is in the hot seat, and they are sixth after five matchdays.

Sydney United 58

The 2022 Australia Cup runners-up are steeped in history.

From three NSL Grand Final appearances to a stellar list of former players, including Graham Arnold, Jason Culina, Mark Bosnich, Francis Awaritefe, Mile Jedinak, Zeljko Kalac, Ante Milicic, Tony Popovic, Attila Abonyi, David Zdrilic and Robbie Slater.

This season, Miro Vlastelica’s United – boasting Adrian Vlastelica, Devante Clut, Chris Payne and Glen Trifiro – are the pacesetters in NPLM NSW, ahead of Rockdale on goal difference.

Wollongong Wolves

They are synonymous with that famous 2000 NSL Grand Final in Western Australia, where Nick Theodorakopoulos’ Wollongong overturned a 3-0 deficit to somehow win the decider on penalties. On that day, Scott Chipperfield won the Joe Marston Medal and the Wolves would go on to successfully retain their crown the following season.

READ: The legendary Aussie referee who’s now a football CEO

Fast forward to 2023 and former Socceroo David Carney is leading the club’s charge. Wollongong -with former referee Strebre Delovski as CEO – have two wins to their name as they enter the sixth round.

Northern New South Wales

Valentine FC

Valentine are the sole representative from NPLM NNSW, and there could be big things brewing in the region.

Former A-Leagues striker Daniel McBreen claims the club have overseas backers as Valentine “want to give kids in the region another pathway to a footballing career”.

Adam Hughes’ Valentine kicked off their season last week with a 1-0 win as they prepare for a date against Nigel Boogard’s Charlestown.


Brisbane City

Another foundation member of the NSL, City have been competing in NPLM QLD.

At the helm is former Queensland Roar, Wellington Phoenix and North Queensland Fury defender Karl Dodd, who also previously coached Guam for four years.

Fifth last season, City are only one of two teams to own a perfect record after two matchdays in 2023.

Brisbane United (Wynnum Wolves, Brisbane Strikers, Virginia United)

The inspiration by the launch of a new club, made up of three existing teams?

“No one will support a team that you play against at junior level. From a Brisbane United perspective, it will only play in the national second division but it will work with its member clubs and supporters to help grow the game,” inaugural chair Rabieh Krayem told 4ZZZ.

Former NSL outfit Brisbane Strikers and Wynnum Wolves both currently play in the Queensland Premier League – outside of the NPL – while Virginia United were relegated to Queensland Premier League 2 ahead of 2023.

Gold Coast Knights

They are the reigning NPLM QLD champions coached by former Socceroo and Celtic striker Scott McDonald.

McDonald guided the Knights to their second Championship last season, and first since 2019.

With ex-Brisbane Roar and Wellington Phoenix forward Mirza Muratovic and ex-Newcastle Jets frontman Kristian Brymora up front, the Knights have split a win and a draw to begin the new campaign.

Gold Coast United

Remember when the Clive Palmer-backed Gold Coast United graced the A-Leagues between 2009 and 2012?

Since 2018, United have been playing in NPLM QLD. Last season, A-Leagues great Shane Smeltz was their leading goalscorer.

United – led by former Socceroo and A-Leagues champion Mitch Nichols – are unbeaten to start the 2023 season under Grae Piddick.

Olympic FC

Olympic FC reached the NPL Grand Final decider in 2022, but were beaten by Gold Coast Knights. Another close call for a team with five consecutive appearances in the decider.

Head coach Ben Cahn has since departed for Melbourne Knights in Victoria. But the club now have Royce Brownlie in the dugout – a former Queensland Roar and Wellington Phoenix striker, who is a Queensland native.

Olympic have lost their opening two matches to begin the season.

Peninsula Power

They were premiers in 2020 and 2021, but Peninsula Power are still waiting for their first NPLM QLD Championship.

The Power have impressed since earning promotion to the NPL in 2018, while they also reached the 2022 Australia Cup quarter-finals.

With former Roar and Australia Under-17 player Izaack Powell in Rick Coghlan’s squad, the Power are reeling amid back-to-back defeats.

Sunshine Coast Fire

While Wynnum Wolves, Brisbane Strikers, Virginia United are joining forces to form Brisbane United, Sunshine Coast Fire are the sole standalone Queensland Premier League representative, outside of the NPL.

The face of the Fire in 2023 is former Gold Coast United, North Queensland Fury, Western Sydney Wanderers, Perth Glory and Melbourne Victory goalkeeper Jerrad Tyson, who earned the Goalkeeper of the Year award upon his return in 2022.

After narrowly avoiding relegation last season, Daniel Carew’s team have a win and a loss to their name so far this term.

South Australia

Adelaide City

They are the reigning NPLM SA champions and have just announced a partnership with renowned Serie A club Atalanta in Italy.

Adelaide City is a name synonymous with Australian football – the club has had managers like Les Scheinflug, Rale Rasic and Zoran Matic and that is before we even get to players like Milan Ivanovic, Damian Mori, Alex Tobin, Carl Veart and Goran Lozanovski, who formed part of the 1990s golden era and the 1994 NSL title-winning side. John Aloisi also emerged through City’s ranks.

Since then, City have enjoyed great success in the NPL. Paul Pezos’ side have just one win from three games so far in 2023.

Football South Australia bid (Campbelltown City, North Eastern MetroStars, West Torrens Birkalla)

Another unique bid is made up of three clubs, two from NPL SA (Campbelltown City and Metrostars) and one from State League 1 in South Australia (WT Birkalla).

Campbelltown City won three consecutive Championships until 2020 and reached the Preliminary Final last season, while the MetroStars were semi-finalists in 2022.

As for WT Birkalla, Socceroos legend Tobin began his youth days at the club, while Adelaide United goalkeeper Joe Gauci emerged from the team’s youth stem.

Playford City Soccer and Community Club

The Patriots are running around in South Australia’s State League 1 – the league third in the national pyramid.

Ben Moore and Playford City SC are eyeing promotion in 2023 after fading away late in the season last term.

The Patriots have two points from three rounds so far.


South Hobart

The club from Hobart are the only team from Tasmania bidding to feature in the National Second Division.

South Hobart have had success in NPLM Tasmania, winning the league in 2017. They were also runners-up the following season.

After finishing second behind Devonport City in 2022, Ken Morton’s South Hobart will begin 2023 against Kingborough Lions on March 18. Morton was also on the books of Manchester United in the 1960s and played with George Best.


Avondale FC

Avondale have emerged as one of the powerhouses of Victorian football.

They reached the NPLM VIC Grand Final in 2018 – beaten by Heidelberg United at AAMI Park. Avondale also made it through to the 2018 Australia Cup quarter-finals against Sydney FC, before going down to Brisbane Roar in the last 16 in 2022.

Zoran Markovski’s Avondale are second in the standings early in 2023, only behind South Melbourne.

Bentleigh Greens

Champions in 2015, 2017 and 2019, Bentleigh have a proud history in Victoria.

Spearheaded by coach John Anastasiadis before his move to Western United, Bentleigh sensationally made it all the way through to the Australia Cup semi-finals in 2018 – their memorable run stopped by eventual champions Adelaide United.

The Greens, however, have made a slow start in 2023 following three straight defeats even with the appointment of their first-ever full-time head coach – Alfredo Costantino.

Costantino is a UEFA A licensed coach, who has also worked with the Italian Football Federation and Roma.

Brunswick Juventus

Brunswick Juventus are one of two teams from NPL2 VIC in the bidding process.

Previously known as Bullen Zebras, Whittlesea Zebras and Moreland Zebras before changing name in 2022, the club are entrenched in Victoria’s football history.

Before the introduction of the NPL, they won the Victorian Premier League in 2004. In 2019, Brunswick Juventus also became the first ever third-tier side to qualify for the Australia Cup quarter-finals.

Gianfranco Impellizzeri’s team are bottom of the second division with one point.

Green Gully

From Melbourne’s west, Green Gully have always been among the challengers in the top tier of Victorian football. Before his Melbourne Victory days and Socceroos caps, Roddy Vargas was playing for the club.

This season, Stephen Downes’ Green Gully have a team boasting two former Melbourne Victory players – Josh Hope and Gianluca Iannucci. They have three points from a possible nine in 2023.

Heidelberg United

The Bergers won two NSL Cup trophies but never got their hands on an NSL Championship, despite two runners-up appearances.

Heidelberg also have an illustrious list of former players – Jeff Olver, Gary Cole, Phil Stubbins, Eric Vassiliadis, Andy Vlahos and Yankos. Ex-A-Leagues players Adrian Zahra, Kaine Sheppard and Ken Athiu are at the forefront of the club’s hopes this term.

The 2018 champions, with George Katsakis’ continued presence, are still searching for their first win heading into round four.

Melbourne Knights

Knights have been the home of some superstars over the years: Mark Viduka, John Markovski, Billy Vojtek, Peter Blasby, Josip Biskic and Danny Tiatto just to name a few. They also won two NSL Grand Finals.

Somers Street played host to some memorable moments and it still does in NPLM VIC.

This season, Ben Cahn is head coach and former Socceroo Ivan Franjic has returned in search of a maiden NPL trophy since the demise of the NSL in 2004.

Heading into matchweek four, Knights are looking to celebrate their first win of the season.

Preston Lions

Since the renovation of BT Connor Reserve, Preston has been the place to be.

NSL runners-up in 1987, Preston have been a staple of Victorian football thanks to the likes of Louie Acevski, Anthony Magnacca, Zoran Petrevski and club great Sasa Ognenovski – the 22-time Australia international.

A legend of Victorian football, Acevski is maintaining Preston’s charge back to the top tier in Victoria, with the Lions recently promoted to NPL2 VIC.

Preston are third in the standings, three points off top spot.

South Melbourne

Oceania’s Club of the Century for the 20th Century, South Melbourne’s record speaks for itself. With a bulging trophy cabinet and an array of past players and managers, South have enjoyed great success.

There are the four NSL Championships, a FIFA Club World Cup date against Manchester United in 2000 and 1999 OFC Champions League success with the legendary Ange Postecoglou at the helm.

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The club have also given us Paul Trimboli, Paul Wade, Mehmet Durakovic, Charlie Egan, Michael Petersen, Vaughan Coveny, Fausto De Amicis, Michael Petkovic and Alan Davidson. One of the greatest players of all time, Ferenc Puskas, also spent time at Lakeside.

This season, Esteban Quintas’ 2022 runners-up South – captained by former A-League Men full-back Brad Norton – are the only team with a 100% record through three rounds.

Western Australia

Spearwood Dalmatinac/Cockburn City

The only WA bid comes in the form of a combined effort.

Spearwood Dalmatinac are an amateur club these days, while Cockburn City play in NPLM WA. Interestingly, Cockburn City were previously known as Spearwood Dalmatinac.

Last season, Cockburn finished 10th in the 12-team league and they will kick-off their new season against Armadale on March 18.

Image source: Adelaide City (Brenton Bessell), Gold Coast Knights, South Melbourne & Sydney United 58