Inter-divisional play-offs: Jennings aims to build on Joondalup's feel-good factor

The focus turns to the post-season this weekend as the inter-divisional play-offs kick off across the NPLWA – Men’s competition, State League Division One and State League Division Two.

One side looking to gain promotion to the NPL is Joondalup United who finished the regular season fourth in the second tier and now face NPL mainstays Sorrento FC over two legs for the right to play in a one-off decider against the winners of Fremantle City and Mandurah City.

It has been a good week for United who announced upgrades would be made to the home of their juniors at Prince Regent, before confirming that their men’s home games in 2024 will be played at Pentanet Stadium in the Arena Joondalup complex. 

United head coach Nick Jennings welcomed the move as the club looks ahead to a new era.

“There was a massive buzz last night at training and personally it’s just a really good feeling,” Jennings said.

“There’s been a bit of a regeneration with the publicity of it all since pre-season when we had nowhere to train. We’ve had to work overtime as a club over the year on things like player recruitment and retention of juniors, and this move brings us into the public eye.

“I’ve spoken to friends and people who aren’t massive football followers, but they have shown interest (in the story) and have said it’s amazing news. 

“I go down to our junior games at Prince Regent and there’s no changing room facilities and no kiosk or anything like that, so it’s huge for us as a community club who obviously has a first-team aspect, but we also have sides ranging from under sixes to over 45s, along with two women’s sides.”

 

Nick Jennings Joonalup United Cat Bryant Photography
Joondalup United head coach Nick Jennings addresses his players during last month's State League game against Forrestfield United. Photo by Cat Bryant Photography

 

Jennings has been head coach at Joondalup United since 2016, with his time at the club spanning a decade overall.

In his first season as gaffer, the club earned promotion to the top flight of WA football for the first time where they had a two-year stay in the NPL before relegation in 2018.

Since then, United have been competitive in the second tier, and in 2021 they went on to claim silverware with a win in the State League Division One Top Four Cup.

Jennings puts that consistency down to the environment which has been fostered at the club over the years despite the occasional difficulty off the pitch.

“I find it quite funny when people call us one-dimensional because we’ve got some great players and a great balance across the team with experience and younger players,” he said.

“We have pace, we have people who are very good one-on-one, and I always want to encourage players to express themselves in the final third and have that licence within our structure.

“The thing I’ll always say about my teams is we’ll always be competitive and play to our strengths, no matter who is and isn’t available on the day. We try to have a system which works and we’re a positive team who want to go out and win every game.

“I love my players. We work to high standards and that’s probably why we’re there or thereabouts and haven’t been in a relegation battle since coming down. 

“We’ve managed to be very consistent without always having that cutting edge, which is maybe what’s slightly let us down over the years, but we look for characters and people we think will fit into the environment and know what the State League is all about.”

Saturday’s first leg at Forrest Park will see Sorrento welcomed by a couple of familiar faces in long-serving Gulls defender Shaun Kilkelly and former player Jackson Dongray. 

The crossover doesn’t end there, with United’s goalkeeper Todd Hoyle and Reserves assistant coach Scott Hoyle the brothers of current Sorrento president Nico Hoyle. And the last time United were in the top flight, they played their home matches at Sorrento’s Percy Doyle Reserve.  

Jennings said he welcomed the addition of the inter-divisional play-offs from the second-tier to the NPL and is optimistic his side will give it everything over the two legs. 

“I think it’s great. The top two (Division One champions Western Knights and Mandurah) have had that distance on ourselves, Fremantle and Dianella for most of the year, so it’s been great for the season to have that life and extra incentive with the games meaning something each and every week,” he said.

“Division One has always been a close, competitive league. We had a target at the start of the season to make the play-offs at a minimum and we’ve achieved that. What happens on the field now in the next two weeks is if you’re good enough, you’ll win promotion, and if we were to achieve that on the back of playing at Pentanet next year it would be a big boost.

“We respect the quality that Sorrento has as individuals and as a team, of course, but we’ll look to get on the front foot at home this weekend and have a real go. I’d rather be in our position with nothing to lose and everything to gain.”

In Saturday’s other play-off semi-final first leg, Fremantle City and Mandurah City meet at Hilton Park in a repeat of the Night Series final in march which Mandurah won on penalties.

Matty Sparrow’s Freo team go into the play-offs having lost just once in six games to recover from a mid-season run which saw them drop off the title pace. Mandurah, meanwhile, will need to move on from the disappointment of being denied automatic promotion on the final day by Albert Luwi’s late goal for Knights against Joondalup.

The Division One and Two inter-divisional play-offs see Subiaco face Swan United, while Curtin University take on Maddington-Kalamunda White City.

Subiaco will be wanting to bounce back having given up a three-goal lead against Gosnells City on the final day of the Division One campaign to drop into the relegation play-off position. Opponents Swan, who reached this stage 12 months ago, were all but assured of their play-off spot going into the final weekend.

The winners of that tie over two legs will play either White City or Curtin in the final. 

Maddington are one of the form sides in the State with one defeat in their final 14 matches. Curtin finished four points behind Maddington, with three wins in their final four matches, and will want to avenge a 2-1 defeat when the sides met in Round 22.

All four play-off semi-finals will be shown live and free on Streamer: https://streamer.com.au/

The return legs will be played on Saturday 16 September, with the finals at the State Football Centre on Saturday 23 September.

Fixtures

Saturday 9 September

Inter-divisional play-off semi-finals, first leg

NPLM/Division One (both 3pm)

Fremantle City v Mandurah City (Hilton Park)
Joondalup United v Sorrento FC (Forrest Park, Padbury)

Division One/Division Two (both 3pm)

Subiaco v Swan United (Rosalie Park)
Curtin University v MK White City (Edinburgh Oval)

Saturday 16 September

Inter-divisional play-off semi-finals, second leg

NPLM/Division One (both 3pm)

Mandurah City v Fremantle City (GenesisCare Stadium)
Sorrento FC v Joondalup United (Percy Doyle Reserve)

Division One/Division Two (both 3pm)

Swan United v Subiaco (Swan Italian Club)
MK White City v Curtin University (Maida Vale Reserve)