It’s the self-styled “game of the season” and Rockingham City against Gwelup Croatia at SafeRad Stadium on Saturday promises to be a cracker.
The two sides are slugging it out for the State League Division One title, with Gwelup currently three points clear of their southern rivals.
Victory for Taki Nicolaidis’ men will give them a six-point cushion with two matches remaining and all but seal the title. Even a draw will leave them with the whip hand.
A win for Rockingham will take them to the summit on goal difference and within striking distance of the championship.
Yet the race for the title is only half the story because Rockingham also have the dangling carrot of automatic promotion to the National Premier Leagues WA as a spur.
While Gwelup are unable to go up becuase they do not meet the criteria, if Cameron Lord’s side go on to be crowned champions then they will replace Subiaco in the top division.
Should Rockingham finish second then it means a two legged play-off with Subiaco to determine who plays NPL football in 2019.
“Knowing that winning puts us in a really good position to win the league, we’ve not won Divison One for 42 years, so the implication for the game’s massive,” Lord said.
“But the message is the same it’s been throughout season – we want to win the game.”
With the end of the campaign in sight Lord, in his first year as Rockingham head coach, agreed they probably have to win on Saturday if they are to be champions.
He said: “I would think, yes. If Gwelup were to beat us it would be difficult for us to come back from and a draw isn’t a result we want. The win’s definitely what we want.”
Lord, who has watched Gwelup a few times this season, added: “The way we set up is a little bit different but it’s two teams who just want to play football with good quality players and I think it’ll be a good game.”
With plenty at stake Lord is expecting a decent crowd, with Gwelup’s support likely to be bolstered by an unlikely source.
Lord added: “I think we should have a pretty good home support, I should imagine that Gwelup’s going to bring their own support – and I think a fair few Subiaco fans are going to be travelling down as well! The more down the merrier, I suppose.
“The NPL has been a long term ambition for the club. The turnaround in what we’ve achieved this season has been impressive and I don’t think many people expected it.
“We want to go up as champions and to do that I believe we have to beat Gwelup on Saturday.”
With no promotion to strive for, it’s the title or bust for Gwelup. But coach Nicolaidis isn’t looking too far ahead.
“I’m playing it down … there are still nine points to play for. If this was the last game of the season it’d be different,” he said.
“We’ve seen over the past few years the team leading the NPL going into the last day haven’t won the championship, so we won’t look too far ahead.”
Helping keep Nicolaidis focused is the desire to lift silverware after previous setbacks.
“We were disappointed with the Night Series and lost the Belt Up Cup Final so we don’t want to let this one slip,” he said.
Nicolaidis, whose side must keep Rockingham danger man James Harmer in check, added: “We’re three points clear so Rockingham must win the game, not us. So the pressure is on them.”
At the foot of the table bottom club Joondalup City host Fremantle City, while second bottom Mandurah City – a point better off than Joondalup – are at Ashfield SC.
Saturday, September 1
State League Division One (all 3pm)
Ashfield SC v Mandurah City (Ashfield Arena)
Joondalup City v Fremantle City (Iluka Sports Complex)
Rockingham City v Gwelup Croatia (SafeRad Stadium, Lark Hill Sportsplex)
UWA-Nedlands v South West Phoenix (UWA Sports Park)
Morley Windmills v Western Knights (Wotton Reserve)
BYE: Dianella White Eagles