These six players in the 20-25-year-old bracket are catching the eye this NPL NSW season.

A-League clubs, take note.

*All images courtesy of FNSW


Tariq Maia

Sydney United

Age: 21

Position: midfielder

Like many NPL players, goal-scoring midfielder Maia has been part of an A-League club’s set up. In his case, Wanderers around four years ago in their NYL side.

He is a Western Sydney local starting his junior career with Wetherill Park Westerners up to U10s at which point he joined Southern Districts.

Maia is a goal-scoring midfielder who seems to pop up late to score important goals; he recently bagged a stoppage-time winner over the Sharks, and an 82nd-minute goal against league leaders the Wolves to earn a 2-2 draw.

He has found the net in the club’s FFA Cup run, too.

He’s now maturing at NPL level and could well be ready to take on the A-League.


Sam McIllhatton

APIA Leichhardt Tigers

Age: 20

Position: midfield


Some may remember a baby-faced McIlhatton coming on for Sydney FC at ANZ Stadium. in the 75th minute against the superstars of Arsenal back in 2017.

Arnie was always willing to give kids a go on the big stage. But we haven’t heard too much more from this talented kid.

He has flown under the radar in recent times after he caught the eye at Sydney FC’s NPL 2 side almost three years ago.

He helped them smash all-comers that year but transitioning to the club’s A-League set up proved a little more difficult.

McIlhatton continued with the Sky Blues’ second tier outfit last year but this season, at the Tigers, Sammy has really shone.

Brandon Vella

Marconi Stallions

Age: 20

Position: midfield

When you get selected for the Young Socceroos while playing in the NPL, that says a lot.

Vella was picked in Ufuk Talay’s 23-man squad in September 2016 for the AFF U19 Championship in Vietnam.

Vella has built his career at the former NSL powerhouse.

He was part of the Marconi side that popped up on the FFA Cup radar in 2016 against Hume City. And again in 2018 against Avondale.

He’s become a mainstay of the side in recent times and has matured under wily boss Peter Tsekenis.

But that elusive A-League move has eluded him. But perhaps not for much longer.

He’s bossed it this season.


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Leroy Jennings

Blacktown City

Age: 21

Position: forward

Fiji is very much the flavour of the month in the A-League courtesy of Roy Krishna 

But there’s another Fijian lurking, and he has a fascinating background. 

Back in 2016, John Davidson reported that the former Fiji U-20 international is the cousin of NRL players Michael, George and Robert Jennings, and comes from strong rugby league and rugby union stock.

Jennings first popped up on FTBL’s radar three years ago when he returned to search for an A-League contract after two years with Wrexham and, bizarrely, a spell with LA Galaxy as a junior.

He was picked up for Newcastle Jets’ youth side in 2016 but has remained outside the pro ranks since with the Sharks and Blacktown.

That A-League dream could still happen.

And with Fiji very much in focus, it’d be a big story.

Jeremy Cox

Sutherland Sharks

Age: 21

Position: forward

Under Terry Palapanis at the Sharks, he’s been a shining light.

Five goals in nine games for the side on the bottom of the ladder shows Coxy’s value to the Shire outfit.

He’s come up through the juniors and into the U20s and showed his worth to the club’s senior team this season.

A great story of youth development in an area that has produced so many top talents.


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Thomas James

Wollongong Wolves

Age: 25

Position: forward

He's a virtual unknown but could the A-League have finally woken up to star NPL striker Thomas James?

The NSW NPL goal machine from ladder leaders Wollongong Wolves is on the radar of at least one A-League club.

He’s been a superstar in Capital Football, and now the NPL NSW, but could he make his A-League debut later this year?

Sources tell FTBL that Central Coast Mariners are at least one A-League club closely monitoring the striker’s breakout season in the NSW NPL.

New Mariners boss Alen Stajcic could be poised to swoop as he rebuilds his battered Mariners on a budget. 

James, 25, has smashed an impressive 12 goals in nine games for the NSW south coast-based Wolves.

TJ is a great example of the talent often hidden in the NPLs around Australia.

James has been a goal machine in the NPL Capital Football competition, scoring a staggering 80 goals in 83 games over the last four years.

In 2018, he banged in 19 goals in 17 games for Canberra FC to justify his reputation as the hottest striker in the ACT. 

After a pre-season trial game for Wolves against the Mariners, James did enough to impress former Socceroo and Sydney FC defender Luke Wilkshire, who is managing his hometown club the Wolves this season. 

The former World Cup Socceroo who has played in England, Holland, and Russia, didn't need much convincing and snapped up the Englishman in the off-season.

"He is quick, has a good first touch, can beat a defender, works hard and can obviously find the back of the net," Wilkshire said after James inked his two-year deal. 

And what a smart move that’s turned out to be.

Far from being a step up, James has continued his sensational scoring form in the powerful NSW NPL.

Those in the know believe he’ll win the player of the year award in NSW.