More sporting history will be made in Narrabri this Saturday when the town hosts its first ever Australia Cup match as Namoi United welcomes the Clarence Valley-based club Westlawn Tigers to town to kick off a milestone year.

The Australia Cup is a national knockout tournament run by Football Australia in conjunction with every state and territory member federation in the country. It commences with the preliminary rounds before moving into the final rounds (from the round of 32 onwards), the stage when the A-League clubs join the fray.

The cup tournament is celebrating its 10th anniversary in 2024 after it began under its former name as the FFA Cup in 2014. The tournament did not run in 2020 amid the COVID-19 pandemic, making this year the 10th edition of the popular event.

It will be the first time Namoi United will enter a team as the Namoi Premier League clubs eagerly await their first competitive match together since 2016. The side will see players from the Narrabri, Wee Waa and Moree clubs line up alongside one another this season in Northern NSW Football’s Northern Inland Premier League, and they have been training hard during the pre-season to prepare for their Australia Cup match.

The draw for Northern NSW Football sides was conducted last Tuesday as the teams who have entered the 2024 tournament learned who and where they would be playing.

Namoi United’s first grade coach Neil Brayshaw was hoping for a home game after he coached Narrabri FC in three cup matches from 2018 to 2023, which were all away from home. The Narrabri men went down 6-1 in Tamworth to North Companions in 2018 and then lost by the same scoreline against South Armidale United a year later. They did not enter the cup in 2021 or 2022, but made their return last year and were dealt another away game against South Armidale United, in which they lost 4-2 after playing most of the game with 10 men.

Brayshaw got his wish this year though as Namoi United were drawn to play a home fixture against Westlawn Tigers, a side based in Junction Hill near Grafton.

The knockout game will be played on Saturday from 1pm at Narrabri High School, with Hogan Oval and Gately Field both out of action due to cricket season. Brayshaw said that Narrabri High School groundskeeper Steven Duncan had the field in immaculate condition and that he looked forward to seeing some of the local region’s best players come together to play as a team.

Their opponents, Westlawn Tigers, compete in the North Coast Football Men’s Premier League and finished ranked last in both first and reserve grade in 2023. They have lined up in the Australia Cup on five occasions and have only made it past the first round once, which was back in 2019 when they beat the Taree Wildcats 9-0 before losing 6-1 to Goonellabah in the second round.

Despite the Tigers’ poor form in the 2023 campaign, which included a penalty shootout Australia Cup loss against fellow North Coast Football Men’s Premier League side Northern Storm, Brayshaw said that no one of Namoi United would be taking the Tigers lightly.

Saturday’s clash is an exciting one for soccer fans in the region as they get a chance to see how some of the best players from the Namoi Premier League in recent years gel together on the same team.

A few key combinations will include Narrabri FC duo Nathan Trindall and Adam Prior and Wee Waa United’s Dean Hamblin at the back, Narrabri FC’s Cooper Brayshaw and Wee Waa United’s Matt Hamblin in the middle of the park, Wee Waa attackers David Avery and Ray Nixon and Narrabri FC strikers Colby Williams and Connor Hill in the attacking third, and gun Moree utility Matt Urquhart, who will likely line up in one of the wing back positions, in a new environment with new teammates.

Should Namoi United beat the Westlawn Tigers on Saturday, an away trip to Coffs Harbour to challenge Coffs Coast Tigers will be waiting for them in the next round.

Last Tuesday’s draw saw two rounds conducted, with the Coffs Harbour side drawing the opening-round bye and then being drawn to host a home game against the winner of the Namoi United v Westlawn Tigers game in the next round.

The other opening-round matches in the northern conference will see Boambee FC host Souths United FC, Alstonville FC host Woolgoolga United FC, Moore Creek FC host Sawtell FC, Coffs City United host South Armidale United FC and Northern Storm FC host Armidale City Westside FC. Goonellabah FC, East Armidale FC, Mullumbimby Brunswick Valley FC, Demon Knights FC, the Coffs Coast Tigers, Port Saints FC, Urunga FC, Inverell FC, Kempsey and Oxley Vale Attunga FC all have byes in the first round and automatically progress to the next round.

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