The kick-off of the Papua New Guinea National Soccer League is just around the corner, with the start date tentatively expected to be 16th November. But which teams might we be seeing battle it out for supremacy at the top level of football in PNG? Here’s what we know already:
Please note: none of the below clubs have confirmed participation. This article is purely speculation based on rumours and the information that we already know.
Lae City FC
It is extremely likely that we will see the five-time reigning champions back for the 14th edition of the National Soccer League. The club, which has never failed to win a title in their five years of competing at this level, announced recently that their name would be reverting back to Lae City FC from Toti City FC due to FIFA and OFC regulations ahead of their participation in the 2019/20 OFC Champions League. This would also suggest that they are well underway with their preparations for the new domestic season as well, and we expect them to be one of the first names on the club list.
News surfaced this week that manager Jerry Allen is returning to eight-time champions Hekari United after half a season managing Marist FC in the Solomon Islands. Given that Hekari have been involved in the competition in eleven of its thirteen seasons – with the two missing being during the league split from 2017 to 2018 when they were involved in the rebel National Premier League – this news only goes to confirm the idea that we will see Hekari once again battling it out amongst the elite.
The third-placed side from two seasons ago had a disappointing time last year, failing to make an impact on the OFC Champions League and finishing seventh out of eight sides in the Northern Conference of last year’s NSL. However, according to an article in the Post Courier last week, the team have already started trials for the forthcoming season, with the intention of taking part in the NSL. Whether or not they’ll be in the Premier Division or the Conference system remains to be seen.
West Tribe FC
No official reports have mentioned West Tribe’s participation this season just yet, but last season’s quarter-finalists have been making noises over on their Facebook page. The club began training at the end of September, and have since been relatively active on the social media scene. This of course has no bearing on whether they’re taking part in the NSL, but photos and training sessions suggests they’ve been preparing for something.
They may not have had the best debut season last time out, finishing bottom of the Northern Conference, but Tusbab Stallions have an unusually international team supporting and sponsoring them, and a huge focus on youth. Their affiliate amateur club, Tusbab Blue Kumuls, won the Madang Soccer Association regional title earlier this year, so the potential is there, and the team appears ready to come back stronger this time around.
Another club with a local affiliate, FC Bougainville have also been making noises on social media, having given their logo a bit of a sprucing up and having already announced that they’ll have a side in the Women’s NSL. Their affiliate side, FC Mungkas, won the National Club Championship earlier this year, so expect them to be a strong presence in the league if they do decide and get picked to be involved.
After their surprise absence last season, a return for Madang FC is not completely out of the question. A report from last year suggested that the reason for their absence was due to a withdrawal of funding from the provincial government, so whether or not this funding will be regained remains to be seen. However, the side was a notable loss to last year’s competition, and several fans online bemoaned their absence on social media. Will that be enough to see them come back?
…and the rest?
It would be difficult to imagine a season with last year’s semi-finalists, Morobe United and Eastern Stars. Morobe have been third on five occasions, including last year, while Eastern Stars made a successful return last year after a four-year absence. Smaller sides from the Highlands and Islands don’t have a great social media presence, so we’re left guessing as to whether other quarter-finalists Kagua-Erave, Chebu AROB and Blue Kumuls (Mt Hagen) will be taking part. Stalwarts Besta PNG United will probably be there or thereabouts, while the fates of former FFPNG rebels Markham FC, Laiwaden FC, Lahi FC and Gulf Komara are yet to be determined.