Rockdale City player-coach Paul Reid is hopeful the club’s new synthetic pitch will help his side turn the Ilinden Sports Centre into a fortress this season.
The Suns will officially open their new playing surface on February 11 when they host NPL 2 club St George FC in their second pre-season friendly ahead of their 2018 NPL 1 campaign.
As well as first grade’s hit out, the club’s under-20s will also face St George before a legends match ahead of the official ceremony prior to the kick-off in first grade.
A number of youth games will also be played from 8am.
The Bicentennial Park project became a step closer to reality when Bayside Council accepted a $1.5 million tender in June last year after the plan had first been adopted in October 2015.
Rockdale travelled to Melbourne for the annual Maso Cup over the Australia Day long weekend where they fell just short of winning a fourth consecutive title. The Suns take on Manly in their first official pre-season friendly then host St George, Sutherland and Hakoah Sydney City East before their opening NPL 1 fixture at home against local rivals Sutherland on March 11.
Reid told the Leader it was an exciting time for the club and the new surface would allow his side to play the kind of football they were capable of at home.
“It has been a long time in coming but as a team we would actually like to be renowned for playing really good football,” he said.
“Teams come to Rockdale and think they have a real fight on their hands because the pitch was never that great. It wasn’t conducive to an attacking brand of football. But the last couple of years we’ve had a team that want to get the ball down and play attractive football.
“At times you couldn’t do that on our pitch, it was a case of doing whatever you can to win the game. I know the players are excited about it. They trained on it last week and it’ll take time to get used to it because it’s a lot quicker.
“From my count there is about seven artificial pitches in the league now. A lot of teams use them but they vary. We’ve had a good home record in the past because teams have not liked coming here with the state of the pitch, especially midway through the season.
“Away from home we have a really good record on artificial [pitches]. We’ve got players who can really play attractive football. We’ve kept those players and recruited boys that complement them.”
Those new signings include two young goalkeepers in Nick Sorras (Sydney FC Youth) and Jake Soutter (Fulham) who will compete with former Socceroos veteran Ante Covic for the No.1 shirt.
There is also some added A-League experience with former Central Coast Mariners wing back Michael Neill and ex-Sydney FC forward Bai Antoniou joining the Suns.
Rockdale fell agonisingly short of the grand final last season but Reid is determined to push on and lead his side to silverware in 2018.
“A couple of years ago we finished fourth which was a good step forward. Last year we were third in the league and just missed out on the grand final. Again it was a good, progressive step but I was disappointed,” he said.
“I knew we had a team that could win it. This year the players are starting to believe we should be up there every year. I go into any competition wanting to win it. That’s the grand final and hopefully go as far as we can in the FFA Cup.
“We’ve made good progress the last few years but I want more.”