The Rockdale City Suns are ready to shine in this weekend's NSW Premier League grand final against Bonnyrigg White Eagles.
Rockdale City are certainly a team on the rise. Having never made a finals series in the NSW Premier League, the Suns find themselves preparing for this weekend-s grand final. While they may have surprised even themselves with how far they've come, there is the belief they have what it takes to go all the way.
There-s no disputing they-ve done it the hard way. Having finished the regular season strongly just to qualify, Rockdale have endured three extra-time finals matches to keep their season alive. But 360 minutes of football and two penalty shoot-outs later, the Suns will line-up against the Bonnyrigg White Eagles on Sunday to decide this year-s champions.
According to Coach Branko Culina the team-s build up has been terrific and their hunger for success is what-s motivated him since he took over the reins at the start of the year.
“Each week there-s been a bigger interest and build up,” said Culina. “There-s been a lot of excitement from the players, committee and the community.
“Last week our supporters outnumbered Sydney United at their home ground and no doubt they-ll follow us to Penrith this weekend despite it being a long way away.
“Coming from the A-League I didn-t know what to expect but there are a lot of great people who invest a lot of time to ensure the club is viable and they richly deserve this opportunity.”
Having lost his last coaching job at the Newcastle Jets two years ago, days out from the season commencing, Culina is proud of Suns- season - and rightly so. There is the sense that dragging Rockdale from mid-table mediocrity to a grand final in his first season has vindicated Culina's confidence in his coaching ability.
“I want to be judged as a coach and on my results,” he said. “So to be sacked four days before the A-League season starts in my last role was bitterly disappointing.
“I enjoy coaching and wanted to prove a point to myself. I wanted to challenge myself, that way you get the satisfaction of seeing what you can do.”
Branko has also enjoyed the involvement of his son Jason with the club as an assistant coach. “I-ve always said the next best thing to playing is coaching but it-s not for everyone,” he said.
“Coaching is something Jason-s looking at getting involved in and the experience he-s been able to pass on to the team has been invaluable.”
In terms of how Branko has found coaching in the inaugural season of the NPL, it seems he was pleasantly surprised by the standard of football being played.
“I-ve been delighted by what I-ve seen and the quality players involved,” he said. “I know if I ever go back to the A-League where I-ll be looking for players.”
“The players and coaches need to be recognised and given every opportunity at this level - I hope they get the recognition they deserve.”
One player who will be urging his teammates to make the most of their opportunity this weekend is Paul Reid. The defender has enjoyed a stellar career at home and abroad and knows what it takes to win, having tasted A-League grand final success with Adelaide United back in 2009.
“I still get nervous before games, even though I-ve played in a few grand finals,” said Reid. “You don-t play in them very often so I-ll just be telling the boys to go out and enjoy every minute of it because that-s usually when you play your best.
“I don-t think anyone expected us to make it (the grand final) but I-m not surprised,” he said. There is a lot of potential at the club and over the last six weeks especially we-ve all steadily improved.”
There was high praise for the coach as well in summing up the Suns' season.
“You can tell he-s (Culina) coached at the highest level. He-s very thorough and organised,” said Reid.
“We managed the best defensive record in the league and that-s due to us being well organised and structured.
“He instils a lot of confidence in the players.”
There-s not too many that dispute Rockdale will go in as underdogs this weekend against Bonnyrigg. However having managed two draws against the White Eagles in the regular season there-s every chance they will push their opposition to extra-time once more. Win or lose on Sunday it seems the Suns have a promising future on their horizon.
IGA National Premier Leagues NSW Men-s 1 Grand Final 2013 Sunday 15 September 2013 Penrith Stadium - Ransley St, Penrith 1st Grade: Bonnyrigg White Eagles v Rockdale City Suns, kick off at 4:00pm
The match will also be streamed online from 3.45pm. View the feed here