It may be the NPL 1 season opener but Paul Reid believes his Rockdale City side must brush aside the challenge of local rivals Sutherland if they are to battle for the premiership at the end of the campaign.
The Suns host Sutherland at the Ilinden Sports Centre on Sunday looking to continue their Leader Cup dominance over their fierce derby rivals.
Reid and Rockdale have learnt their lesson from last season where they failed to sustain a title challenge despite an impressive start.
The Suns won six of their first eight games last season remaining undefeated but still finished seven points behind eventual premiers APIA Leichhardt. That has left player-coach Reid determined that any early slips are unacceptable.
“It’s actually really important [to start well]. You saw it last season we had a really good start. We only lost three games in the first round but we weren’t top of the table,” he said.
“If you don’t get a good start you’re forever chasing. A few years ago we were chasing the top five after such a poor start. We want to win premierships and grand finals and trophies, that pressure comes with it.
“I’ve heard the whispers going around that we should be the team to beat. If that’s what people think that’s great. I won’t shy away from that. I really do believe we have a team that should the league and the grand final. If the players don’t think that they shouldn’t be playing.
“Only time will tell if we can do it but we need to relish that responsibility and pressure that comes with that. What better way for our boys to make a name for themselves and push on further in their career.”
As for Sutherland, Reid said his side wouldn’t be taking them lightly despite their difficult 2017 season. Grant Lee has strengthened his squad over the summer, with Reid adamant Rockdale will need to be at their best to overcome the Sharks.
“We’ve retained the Leader Cup for the last two years and done it quite comfortably but Sutherland have recruited really well,” he said.
“They look much stronger than last season and I know they were disappointed with last season. They’ve got a much better team with a lot of depth. It will definitely be a really tough game and tough test for us first up.
“The thing with our league is that any team can beat anyone. Even when we played Sutherland last year and they were languishing near the bottom of the table they were always a tough team.”
It will also be Rockdale’s first competitive match at the Ilinden Sports Centre since the completion of its new synthetic pitch.
Kick-off is at 5pm.