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Opinion

Is the A-League about to become what we've always wanted it to be?

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Expert
3rd January, 2021
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When Tomi Juric wheeled away in celebration in front of a rapt Coopers Stadium, he signed off on a round of football that suggested the A-League is back and possibly better than ever.

What could be better than the sight of a former Socceroos striker desperate to regain his national team jersey side-footing home a perfectly executed set-piece routine?

Maybe the sight of a couple of kids scoring important goals, as happened the day before?

And if ever the A-League needed a few eye-catching games to remind the true believers it’s still a competition worth watching, it delivered in spades on a gripping weekend of football.

Hat’s off, firstly, to the Central Coast Mariners. Top of the table after back-to-back wins? You can almost hear Ray Gatt bellowing across Brisbane Water: “Tell him he’s dreaming!”.

There was nothing pretty about their 2-0 win over new boys Macarthur FC yesterday, but Alen Stajcic won the battle of the former Matildas coaches as the Mariners demonstrated the value of a tight defence and finishing your chances.

They already boasted one of the best goalkeepers in the league in Mark Birighitti, but Ruon Tongyik is a colossus in defence and in Gianni Stensness and home-again skipper Oli Bozanic the Gosford side boast a seriously strong spine.

It’s a shame they ruined Macarthur’s big day in their first-ever A-League game at home at Campbelltown Stadium – how about those cowbells? – but a decent Mariners team is good for the A-League.

Ruon Tongyik

Ruon Tongyik (Photo by Ashley Feder/Getty Images)

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So too is watching youngsters get on the scoresheet.

You won’t see a better debut goal than Calem Nieuwenhof’s absolute piledriver for Sydney FC in Saturday’s absorbing 2-1 win over Wellington Phoenix at WIN Stadium in Wollongong.

It was nice to see new Wellington signing Mirza Muratovic get on the scoresheet for the Phoenix too. Except of course we didn’t.

Muratovic had been invisible up to that point, so perhaps it was fitting that Fox Sports – and by extension ABC’s free-to-air coverage – lost the broadcast signal at the crucial moment as the young attacker angled his volley in off the post.

The youngster failed to impress Warren Moon towards the back of last season and the new Roar coach was quick to show Muratovic the door.

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Moon seems to have a lot more faith in Dylan Wenzel-Halls and despite his propensity for butchering decent chances, you can hardly fault the 23-year-old homegrown striker’s work rate.

Wenzel-Halls put the seal on a superb 3-1 win over Melbourne Victory on Saturday as the visitors turned the screws in the second half with some textbook counter-attacking football.

Scott McDonald was always going to remain a nuisance up front for the Roar this season, but in Wenzel-Halls, Riku Danzaki and the surprisingly effective Joey Champness the Queenslanders now have attacking threats all over the park.

And they’ve still got Japanese striker Masato Kudo waiting in the wings.

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Victory were well and truly in the contest in an enthralling clash at AAMI Park, particularly when English winger Callum McNamaman cut inside and unleashed a swerving left-foot stunner past a despairing Jamie Young.

How costly will Victory coach Grant Brebner’s decision to leave an ailing Marco Rojas on the pitch prove to be in the short term, though?

And how defensive did Brebner sound when he was asked about it on Fox Sports after the game? It’s a tough gig coaching the biggest club in the land.

But at least the Roar’s win over Victory – not to mention Adelaide’s win over City and Central Coast’s defeat of Macarthur – will remind a national media that often focus almost exclusively on Sydney and Melbourne clubs that there are other teams in the league.

And if that’s the quality of football this season, then we’re in for a treat.

Returning heroes, new stars and a genuinely even competition? Maybe the A-League is about to become what we’ve always hoped it would be.