The Contender

by Sebastian Hassett on Nov 04, 2011

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Like a pack of Melbourne Cup runners going towards the first turn, one feels the A-League is starting shake itself into a shape that will define how the season is run and won.

It's still only early days - we're barely entering week five of the competition - but I already think we're seeing which teams will succeed and who is left picking up the rear.

You already know about Brisbane Roar, and you already know they're going to romp away with the minor premiership (or Premier's Plate, if you feel the need). Stranger things have happened, however.

When Gold Coast United went about terrorising the competition three seasons ago, many openly wondered whether they could go undefeated all season. They didn't even make the grand final.
One suspects the Roar are a whole let better than that. I've got no doubts that they'll go all the way to the grand final this year, and the question for me already is who is going to join them. Call me premature, I just think they're that good.

Is there a potential contender out there? The natural call is to say Melbourne Victory, though that is probably based more the names in their squad than anything else. There's cases to be made in the 'for' and 'against' column for almost every other club.

Melbourne haven't played like a contender so far and were pretty lucky - in my view anyway - to post their first win of the season in Wellington. I'm sticking to them as my number two, but we'll get a good idea of what they're really made of when they face the Roar on Saturday night, where they'd want to pick up at least a draw.

The bookies next favourite, surprisingly enough, is Sydney FC. I'm not sure about whether the Sky Blues are good enough to compete this season but they've definitely improved. They need a striker; Bruno Cazarine and Mark Bridge haven't made their combination click. A prolific, Shane Smeltz-type finisher is essential. My gut feeling is they won't score enough goals, but a midfield of Nicky Carle, Brett Emerton and Terry Antonis will create plenty of opportunities.

Speaking of Smeltz, his impact at Perth Glory has been immediate. He's made that whole club believe they can climb back to the top and their start to the season has been excellent. Will it last? I think it might - they are finals material. In Billy Mehmet, Andrezinho and Liam Miller, they have received a huge injection of creativity.

I'm still undecided over Central Coast. They look like a dour stayer who missed the start, though this is what Graham Arnold has planned for, apparently. The concern for me is that too much expectation will fall on young Mustafa Amini. He's a beauty, but he can't save the Mariners if they fall too far behind. They need to start picking up points and playing more positive football.

Your guess is as good as mine on Adelaide. They'll win enough games to make the finals - as any team with names like Vidosic, van Dijk, Djite, McKain, Galekovic and Caravella should - but three out of four poor performances has me unimpressed for now. Talk of them being a contender was shredded by Brisbane Roar last week. Can Rini Coolen restore a dressing room he ripped apart last year? Making the top two would be a huge effort.

As for the rest, I'm putting Newcastle and Wellington in the same boat as each other: Good at home but not consistent enough away, and with significant upheaval at both clubs during the off-season (Wellington in the boardroom and Newcastle on the touchline), I feel they're both a year away.

I had significant concerns over Melbourne Heart in the off-season and I'm not in the slightest bit pleased to say those premonitions are looking accurate. I can't see them making the finals and I can't see John van't Schip keeping his job.

Lastly, as good as Gold Coast were in dismantling the Jets last weekend - or as good as Marceo Righters was - I don't see them a contender in any shape or form. Unless Righters can pull out a performance like that every week, it still looks like being a long season on the Glitter Strip.