Sutherland Sharks coach Grant Lee has called on match officials to crack down if Rockdale City go with an overly physical approach in their season opening derby on Sunday.
Sutherland travel to the Ilinden Sports Centre looking to make a statement in the first leg of the Leader Cup to get their NPL 1 campaign off to a strong start against the highly-rated Suns.
The Sharks have welcomed back a handful of local juniors to the club including former Sydney FC defender Jacob Tratt. Hayden Morton and goalkeeper Ryan Norval, who replaces retired veteran Nathan Denham, will also bolster the defence. While Nick Olsen and Adrian Vranic have joined from Sydney United 58.
As well as members of the club’s double-winning under-20s side from last season, Sutherland have a significantly stronger squad in 2018 giving Lee and his team confidence going into the new campaign.
And Lee told the Leader his players would be prepared to deal with Rockdale’s physical threat on Sunday.
“They’ll be fired up. They’re a club with a decent budget and with Paul Reid there and his experience they can entice players from others clubs. You see the calibre of footballers there,” he said.
“It’ll be a big test for our boys. They’re experienced, they’ve been around a high level. They know what it takes. They’re a very physical side as well. Nowadays it shouldn’t have as much impact. You hope the referees are up to it and be aware of what they’re doing. [They can be] a bit naughty, smart.
“It’s a part of the game. To be able to intimidate your opponent physically is a fantastic attribute. But you hope the referee is on top of it and doesn’t let it get out of control, drag them back into line.
“Referees without experience can be intimidated themselves. You hope you’ve got a quality referee out there who can handle it.”
Tratt’s return to Sutherland is a huge boost to the club. The 23-year-old is likely to lead the team from the back given his A-League experience with Sydney FC and Wellington.
Lee said strong leaders were needed for his young side.
“Anyone who has been to that level certainly understands that next step, how to conduct yourself.
“They help everyone around them, pass that knowledge onto the younger players,” he said.
Kick-off is at 5pm.