Brisbane Strikers winger Trent Clulow (pictured) says his team faces a huge test of its abilities next weekend when it journeys to Edensor Park to take on Sydney United 58 FC in their PlayStation 4 NPL Finals Series semi-final.
United defeated Adelaide City 5-4 in their Elimination Final today to clinch a hosting rights against Strikers, who ousted Canberra Olympic 3-2 on Saturday.
Clulow, who watched the live streaming of this afternoon’s match in Sydney, was excited about being part of a high-stakes duel between two clubs who shared a strong rivalry in the former National Soccer League.
“They are a great club with a rich history, the same as Strikers,” said Clulow tonight.
“They were undisputed champions (this year) of their league, similar to us and it’s another opportunity for us to go and test ourselves. No doubt, aside from the Melbourne City game, it’ll be one of the toughest games we’ve played all year”.
The semi-final will stir memories in both Brisbane and Sydney of the 1997 NSL grand final won 2-0 by Strikers at Lang Park (now Suncorp Stadium) – an event that drew over 40,000 fans and, in doing so, shattered the myth that football could not be a ‘mainstream’ sport in Australia.
Echoing that sentiment, Clulow said the 1997 NSL Grand Final had forever changed his family’s view of the game then usually referred to as “soccer’.
“I was very young – I was only ten or eleven in that grand final year and for some reason I couldn’t make that game to see it live,” Clulow recalled. “But all of my family went and it was an awesome spectacle where they bought the Strikers’ shirts and got the flags.
“I had been to Lang Park and watched a few Strikers games throughout the year and I remember being bummed that I missed it, but it was a pretty big moment for my family’s view on the game in general”.
Clulow said the game had been inspirational for junior footballers like himself, who were playing their football in regional Queensland towns (in his case Gatton and Toowoomba) where the culture and possibilities in football were often not well understood.
“Growing up in a country town outside of Brisbane but not too far away – to play in games in front of that many people was something that (encouraged us to believe) that if we put our heads down it was not too far away for us,” Clulow explained.
“And you could see through my parents that they got a little bit more invested in their willingness to help us out with our soccer.”
Back in the present day, Clulow is already turning his mind to what his team can learn from today’s win by Sydney United.
“In the first half Sydney United well and truly destroyed Adelaide City from a possession perspective, but it ended up being extremely tight,” Clulow said.
“Adelaide almost scored as many goals as the amount of shots that they had. So if we create chances we can definitely score”.
But Clulow acknowledged that Strikers would need to do better in that regard than they did last night, when they created numerous scoring opportunities against Canberra Olympic that they bombed through poor finishing.
“When we walked in at half time it was, like, they’d had two shots and they’d scored two goals and it felt like they only went into our half twice,” Clulow said.
“It was that half-frustrating and half-embarrassing type of feeling.
“But Kev (coach Kevin A’Herne-Evans) said that we just needed to keep doing what we’re doing but try to be more clinical and a bit centred in front of goal and it would ultimately come. Look, in the second half we could have had three or four more. But at least we got the result.”
Clulow attributed his team’s off-key performance against Canberra partly to the long break they had after losing their PlayStation 4 NPL Queensland semi-final on penalties to Redlands United.
“There was no denying it was tough to come back after three weeks since our semi-final game, so we mentally and physically had to dust the cobwebs off,” Clulow said.
“We needed to get the wheels turning and get back into the frame of mind that this was a competitive game. We did pretty well as a whole. We were happy to get through, although we rued a few (missed) chances that we had in front of goal”.
Photo: Michele Pitman