Could Newcastle Jets attacker Kaine Sheppard be the best graduate from the National Premier Leagues (NPL) to succeed in the Hyundai A-League in many a year?
That could well prove to be the case after the 25-year-old’s impressive starting debut for the Jets in the 2-0 win over Brisbane Roar on Sunday.
Sheppard sent the Jets on their way to a first home win of the season with the opening goal, a classy finish at the near post from Daniel Georgievski’s cross.
But it wasn’t just the goal which caught the eye in his performance.
Sheppard’s constant movement and willingness to get in behind and stretch Roar’s defence – as well as some neat touches to bring his teammates into play – will have had normally stone-faced coach Ernie Merrick beaming on the inside.
The England-born striker got his chance in the Hyundai A-League after a brilliant NPL campaign with Avondale in Victoria, where he hit 20 goals in 26 appearances.
He also played a key role in the club’s charge to the FFA Cup 2018 quarter-finals, scoring in the 4-1 wins over Marconi and Devonport in the earlier rounds.
Of course, Sheppard is not the only player to have made the jump from the NPL to the Hyundai A-League in recent seasons, with a number of other clubs around the competition signing talent from across the country.
We look at a few others who have made the step-up from the NPL to the Hyundai A-League in the last couple of years.
Matthew Millar (Central Coast Mariners)
Millar was one of a handful of players the Mariners hand-picked from the NPL to bolster their roster for the 2018/19 Season, after three years with South Melbourne in Victoria.
And the 22-year-old, who played four games for Melbourne City in the 2015/16 campaign, has made the most of his second chance in the big time.
Millar has started the last three games for Mike Mulvey’s side and has arguably been their most consistent player, causing plenty of problems down the right wing against both Sydney FC and the Wanderers.
While fellow NPL graduates Jordan Murray (APIA Leichhardt) and Josh Macdonald (Wollongong Wolves) have had limited minutes in the Hyundai A-League, Millar looks to have firmly established himself in Mulvey’s starting XI.
Dylan Wenzel-Halls (Brisbane Roar)
We’ve only seen glimpses of the pacey attacker but the early signs are certainly promising for the Roar and coach John Aloisi.
Wenzel-Halls was snapped up by Roar after a couple of prolific seasons in the Queensland NPL with Western Pride, where he scored an incredible 40 goals in just 29 matches.
The 20-year-old has made three appearances off the bench so far this season, providing one assist but looking comfortable at this level and dangerous as an impact weapon off the bench.
Kenny Athiu (Melbourne Victory)
Anointed ‘King Kenny’ by Victory fans, Athiu is in his second season with the Champions after he was plucked from Victorian NPL outfit Heidelberg United.
The now 26-year-old burst onto the scene with the ‘Bergers in the FFA Cup – once scoring the winner to eliminate Perth Glory – but he’s only had limited opportunities with Kevin Muscat’s side.
A key understudy to Besart Berisha on Victory’s charge to the title last season, South Sudan-born Athiu has one Hyundai A-League goal to his name, while he has made just the one outing in 2018/19.
Nikola Mileusnic (Adelaide United)
Mileusnic has been one of the big success stories from the NPL in recent seasons after joining the Reds from South Australian NPL outfit Adelaide City.
The speedy winger was a regular member of Marco Kurz’s starting side last season and scored a memorable goal against Sydney FC in the club’s FFA Cup final loss.
While injury has disrupted the early part of this season, the 25-year-old is likely to play a big part if Adelaide is to be serious challengers for the title.