PHOTOS: The Eagles have started their climb back up the Football Gold Coast Premier League ladder after a series of frustrating stumbles threatened to derail coach Dave Benigno’s all-star ambitions in the early rounds of this year’s competition.
Following on from agonising losses to competition leaders Burleigh Bulldogs and Surfers Apollo – both games going down to the wire – the incoming Eagles coach has been quietly adjusting his combinations in the hopes of pinpointing the exact formula for success on the field.
That success has started to come in the form of his Japanese duo, Koki Miyasaka and Koji Kato, who have scored a combined glut of 5 goals in their last two outings, including Kato’s impressive hat trick against Tweed Heads in their last game.
The pair traded roles ahead of the Tweed game, Kato taking on the coveted number-10 job with the Eagles for the first time this year.
Within a few minutes from the starting whistle, Kato silenced any doubters by perfectly slotting a glancing header past the 2018 Nerang goalkeeper Sam Fowler, leaving the Tweed defensive structure shattered from the the onset of the game.
Kato was pleased with the result and after the game saying, “where I usually play is on the left wing but today I was put in to play the position of the number ten – in which Coach David requires me to score goals – so I put in my best effort and by the end I had 3 goals which was really satisfying.”
“All the time to win is a great feeling but it’s not all about me scoring the 3 goals, it’s about about Nerang winning the game,” adde Koji on his performance.
“This is the first game that we have held a clean sheet, but the next game is really important for us, it’s where we will see if we can come back and I’m looking forward to it.”
Coach Dave Benigno has expressed his admiration for the pair, saying that they not only shine in their roles on the field, but lift the team as a whole when they train and play.
“Koki was unstoppable against Mudgeeraba last week and then Koji approached me at training afterwards asking if he could play in his favourite position, which I haven’t put him in yet,” said Benigno.
“That may be where he needs to go because to respond to the coach by not only saying thanks, but here’s three goals on top – well it doesn’t get much better than that!”
Heading into the Tweed game a growing injury list forced Dave Benigno’s hand with the coach having to scoop into the club’s fountain of youth to bolster his squad.
With the Eagles battered and bruised from the onslaught of contenders already faced, a fresh-faced team took to the field against Tweed as Captain Tolga Yorulmaz was sidelined early nursing a rib injury, forward Alistair Davis out with an ankle injury along with absences from Tim Jackson (away), Simone Mangiante (overseas) and Columbian goalkeeper Faider Royer who is celebrating the birth of his son Xavier.
The recent gaps in the Eagles’ camp have opened up opportunities for a slew of youth players to rise forward and meet the challenge – the results thus far have been impressive and strong.
The solid win against Tweed United showcased a Nerang side that was more teen than team, including one of the youngest players to play Premier League this year – 15-year-old Joseph Fallembu.
The Ghanian-born striker is one of many graduates from Nerang’s Academy of Football Australia under top mentor Gary Scott, and has become a recent late-game agitator for coach Dave Benigno, coming off the bench in the last three matches to immediately affect the game with his zeal, pace and attacking flair.
“I’ve been a little nervous at the start, but once I get out there the boys make me feel like I’m part of the team and I can do anything, I’ve just got to show them what I’ve got,” Fallembu said.
“David tells me to go at them and that’s what I have to do – go in 100 percent, don’t pull out and give my all – pay him back that faith that he has put in me.”
The young striker admits it’s been a crash course in the physical and mental game of senior football but credits his training at the Academy with preparing him for those challenges.
“We’ve just been taught to put it all on the line and go in after every ball … even if I might not be able to make it, I’m still going to put that challenge in to win every ball, to beat every man, and if you get taken out that’s just part of it – that’s what football is,” he said.
Ahead of the Tweed game and in only his second match for the Nerang first-grade side, Fallembu bagged his first ever goal in the League, helping his team to a 1-goal win over Mudgeeraba.
Joining Fallembu in the match against Tweed was a steady stream of fellow Nerang and Academy of Football Australia youth players debuting in first-grade Premier League football including Ben Dixon, Joel Bruggy and 16-year-old goalkeeper Riley White.
White, who kept his Tweed opponents scoreless during his debut performance with several great stops was pleased with his performance.
“Getting a clean sheet feels so good, it’s brilliant, but it also shows the total ability of the defence in this team compared to some of the reserve grade games I’ve played in,” he said.
“I can control these lads and point out players behind them, movements off the ball, and they’ll listen to me, especially Acim – he always has an ear out and has great control of the defence.
“Nerang is a great family club – they’re tight knit and my dad’s been here for 15 years now as a physio … he wouldn’t be here if he didn’t love it.”
Despite the mounting injury list and absences in the usual squad, and with the permanent loss last week of star defender Kazuma Kobayashi who has left the club to pursue alternative pathways, coach Dave Benigno has reacted positively to the pressure and resulting adaptations he has been forced to make.
“Let it be no secret, we’ve lost Kazuma now and we wish him all the best as he steps out from the club, and with so many players carrying small injuries this week or being away we’ve had to mix it up a bit with four crucial changes to four starting-eleven positions,” said the veteran coach.
“Having to then draw from the club and bring up these literally 16, 17 and 18-year old kids has actually been really good – to have the bank of such high quality young players there ready to rise to the challenge is something not many clubs have … I’m looking forward to seeing them rise again.”
With several players returning this week from absences and injuries, the Nerang Eagles are expected to bring a regrouped and solidified squad for this Saturday’s games where they will face Mudgeeraba again – this time away at Mudgeeraba.
A strong performance against the Wallabies could see Nerang rocket to third place on the Gold Coast Premier League table, something that we’re sure is in the back of the players’ minds come this Saturday. HEAD DOWN AND SUPPORT THEM – DETAILS BELOW!
Kazuma Kobayashi is said to be trialling with Logan Lightning and pursuing opportunities in the Football Queensland Premier League – the Nerang Eagles would like to wish him the very best of luck for his football future and thank him for his time at the club.