FOR eight Top End soccer clubs, the quest towards a date with an A-League franchise begun on Monday night at the FFA Cup launch in Darwin.
The knockout competition’s first round fixtures were drawn at the event, which confirmed three matches will be played across as many match days.
Newly formed joint venture Palmerston Rovers will enter as defending Territory champions following Darwin Rovers’ 2017 campaign, which saw them lose to Sydney FC in the Round of 32.
The merged entity play Division 1 outfit Darwin Hearts the week after Mindil and Casuarina kick off the competition on Tuesday, March 27.
Uni Azzurri retake their spot in the men’s premier league this year and begin their campaign against Port Darwin on Tuesday April 17.
Reigning FFNT premiers Hellenic and champions Olympic have been rewarded with direct entry into Round 2.
However, they will face each other meaning one of Darwin’s powerhouse clubs will not advance to Round 3, which FFNT CEO Bruce Stalder yesterday defended.
“(Olympic and Hellenic) have to play each other sometime if they want to represent the NT in the round of 32 and this year it will be in match five rather than match seven,” he said.
“And I remind all that Darwin Rovers have been the team to feature in the Round of 32 the last two years.”
Stalder said in its first three years, the national knockout competition had become as important as the week in, week out FFNT league for local teams.
“All clubs have objectives throughout the year. One of them is to win the grind of the premier league, that’s in our blood and part of our DNA, each club aspires to be the best team over the season,” he said.
“And then there’s the FFA cup which is a great initiative and really inspires clubs at all levels around Australia.
“It’s mutually beneficial to both focus on the short term FFA cup midweek and also the week in, week out competition.”
Stalder said Palmerston Rovers would begin as front runners.
“The favourites have got to be the guys who won the last two years, the amalgamated Palmerston Rovers,” he said.
“But Hellenic will be tough to beat because of their premiership last year.
“You’d also have to give Olympic a go because of their tenacity in the final series, while Port Darwin have been training for 8 weeks and are determined to have special year, and you also can’t avoid Casuarina.”