To kick-off our new series of WA on Wednesday interviews featuring the NPLW WA clubs, Perth SC head coach Peter Rakic spoke exclusively to Ben Gilby about their Night Series Grand Final success, preparations for the 2023 season, and how he views the NPLW WA more widely this year (5/4/23).
Above: Perth SC head coach Peter Rakic – his exciting team have started the 2023 campaign powerfully. Photo: Rob Lizzi.
They’ve had the best possible start to the 2023 season. A first piece of silverware gained by defeating the previously unbeaten Perth RedStar in the Night Series Grand Final, and have two wins from two to start the NPLW WA season. Perth SC head coach Peter Rakic believes it has given his team “a taste of what they have to fight for.”
Reflecting on his team’s Night Series Final win over RedStar, coming from 2-0 down in the 90 minutes before taking the trophy after a penalty shoot-out, Rakic said: From a mindset point of view it gives the group that taste of what we have to fight for, and what this squad can achieve even with our backs against the wall.
“It was just a firm reminder to the girls of the brand of football that we play and what it produces for us, demanding more of the ball and attempting to be in control. That’s what we needed. I already felt that the belief was there, and I could see it in the body language of the players involved, so the talk was short and direct, to the point of embracing that challenge and using it to fight back. Having that mentality is what changed everything, but having the likes of Gemma (Craine) and Ellie (La Monte) come off the bench is what really enabled us to put on that forward pressure.”
However, the Perth SC head coach admits that his side’s Night Series campaign was far from straightforward. “I’ll be honest, it was tough for us because we didn’t play much football prior to our first game. There was such a heavy focus on fitness and conditioning because I wanted a higher level of intensity in 2023, and this took priority over everything at the beginning.
“While it was good seeing the girls pushing through a grueling fitness schedule, it meant that we had little to no time in working on actual specifics, and the first few matches I thought we were totally unorganised, but I take full responsibility for this. It quickly turned into a manner of sink or swim, and this is where that cohesion and early resilience started to show.
“Our football has definitely gone from strength to strength each week and our structure and new system is starting to click, but the girls’ attitudes towards embracing more change was excellent.”
Perth SC’s Night Series Final victory was a huge moment for the squad, as it landed them their first silverware, but Rakic is now fully focused on what’s ahead.
“For me as a coach, it’s done and dusted, and we must remain focused more so than ever. While it was such a great feeling to win the first piece of silverware for the club, I’m also well aware that we still have to overcome both NTC and RedStar in 90 minutes where penalties won’t give us that lifeline, and this is where it will matter most.”
Perth SC will have that opportunity on Good Friday when they take on RedStar at Dorrien Gardens in their first meeting against the defending champions in this year’s NPLW WA.
RedStar lost their opening game of the season to an impressive Hyundai NTC side who they defeated in last year’s Top Four Cup Final, Rakic sees this season’s NPL competition as potentially a lot more open than last season.
“I think we’re in for some real upsets this year as we’ve already witnessed from round one, and it could truly prove to be a nail-biting contest in the fight for the top four. With regards to who may challenge us the closest, I think we saw hints of that already through the Night Series.
We have a very tough opening to the season taking on Fremantle City (a game the Azzurri won 6-0), RedStar, then Murdoch University Melville, and NTC, so if the fight for the top is as close as it appears to be, then these fixtures may well hold the capacity to shape our season very early on.”
Perth SC went into this season determined to improve on their 2022 campaign which saw them finish second on the final ladder and runners-up in the State Cup. Their Top Four Cup campaign saw an opening defeat to Perth RedStar before going down three days later to Hyundai NTC in the Preliminary Final. Looking back, Rakic feels there was a lot that could be used to inspire his team for this year.
“It was a season that we felt we could build on and use as motivation to stay hungry, ensuring our standards were consistently moving in the upward direction. Maybe there were moments where we did deserve more, but unfortunately, that can be football. It was always a matter of fine margins and despite coming out empty-handed, we made very good progress towards a plan that was heavily thought out.”
The Azzurri have managed to retain the majority of their squad for this season, with the exception of a few of the year’s stars, as the club’s head coach explained.
“We, unfortunately, lost our captain Zoee Spadano who remains in Italy playing futsal and we are yet to know if she will return at any point. Caitlin Doeglas went looking for further opportunities over East and signed for Sydney NPL side Northern Tigers, Nadia Harvey was next as she made the move to Premier division side Hamersly Rovers, Jess Byrne who was player-assistant last season has stepped down from playing to fulfil the assistant role more permanently, and lastly Emma McMurdo, who parted ways with the club before the beginning of round one.”
However, on the other side of the ledger, Perth SC have been able to strengthen, first with the return of the hugely talented Gemma Craine, after almost a year out of the game after being injured for Perth Glory in the A-League Women. The attacker’s restoration to the club is something that excites Rakic.
“Gemma has been immense; she adds so much energy to our playing style and she is always so dangerous when going forward. I’ve always admired her as a player when I first saw her break into the Perth scene with Balcatta many years ago, and it’s been a pleasure to be able to cross paths and work with someone that possesses an abundance of real footballing qualities. She was sorely missed in 2022.”
There are also a number of further major additions to the Azzurri squad which underlines the real threat that Perth SC pose this season, as the club’s head coach outlined.
“Poppie Hooks and Ellie La Monte were obvious targets for me as I had worked with them previously at Murdoch University Melville and Queens Park. The move for Ellie made sense due to our short supply of attackers last year and losing Caitlin to Northern Tigers.
“Poppie was someone I had been pursuing from the first season with Perth, only it made even more sense now that we lost Nadia and Jess, and I was forced to bolster our defensive line. Monique Godding was another addition that I admired for quite some time, a player who I believe deserved more public recognition for the consistent performances she would put on display in the heart of Balcatta’s midfield, so after Zoee’s move to Italy, I knew I had a big hole to fill and Mon was the perfect candidate.
“Another face we are yet to see is Matilda Bohm, Matilda was playing in Poland’s Division One before relocating to Australia and she’s already added a breath of fresh air to our system, a very calm and technical presence on the ball which will form another line of strength to our central areas and I’m very excited to get her involved.”
Rakic believes that whilst his own team’s prospects look strong, the wider league looks to be far closer this time round. “So far there looks to be more balance between teams, and there was a lot of movement in the off-season which could give us a completely different picture this year. Respectively the score lines between the top six appear to have levelled out as well and I think in turn we’ll see a much more competitive league.”
When it comes to what he wants to see from his own team this season, Rakic is clear. “It’s hugely important that we show growth on what we achieved and where we finished in all comps last year, and not just from a league table position or a cup final perspective.
“We have to work on the little things that left us empty-handed, building on a consistent week-to-week performance throughout, dropping less points in games that we deserved more out of, scoring more goals, conceding less, having a cleaner disciplinary record, and establishing a firm fight with our fellow title contenders.
“If we are fortunate enough to be reaching cup finals then that’s always a bonus and its excellent to be in the running for any extra silverware, but I think you’ll find the energy and ambition around the Perth camp is to be in a position to lift the league title, and if this can be achieved, I know myself and the team can walk away from 2023 feeling incredibly proud and accomplished.”