Central Coast Mariners
Finished second, won A-League championship
Matt Simon [Chunnam Dragons], Marcos Flores [Melbourne Victory], Storm Roux [Perth Glory], Tom Slater [Sydney FC], Marcel Seip [VVV Venlo], Liam Reddy [Sydney United]
Pedj Bojic [Sydney FC], Mathew Ryan [Club Brugge], Bernie Ibini-Isei [Shanghai SIPG], Oliver Bozanic [FC Luzern], Patrick Zwaanswijk [retired], Adriano Pellegrino [CCM Academy], Brad McDonald [CCM Academy]
After three previous grand final appearances, Central Coast finally claimed an A-League championship last season with a 2-0 win over Western Sydney Wanderers in the competition decider.
Heading into the new season, Graham Arnold looks to have the Mariners prepared for a similarly successful campaign.
Despite losing a host of players yet again, Arnold has made signings that seem ready-made to fit into the Mariners' hard-working culture. Of the players who started for Central Coast in last season's Grand Final, five have left the Gosford-based club, but with Marcos Flores, Matt Simon and Marcel Seip joining the Mariners, the reigning champions will remain a serious contender in the 2013-14 campaign.
What has to go right
In the 2012-13 season, including finals, Central Coast claimed 10 of their 18 wins by margins of 1-0 or 2-0. The Mariners' defensive structure was key to their championship run.
But with a number of other A-League teams securing key recruits in defence, Arnold's men cannot simply rely on being more organised this season. While the Mariners also scored the equal-most goals last season, they may need to be even stronger in attack to break down their opposition and the integration of Flores could be critical.
Daniel McBreen signs a permanent deal with Shanghai SIPG [where he is currently on loan until October 31] before Mitchell Duke suffers a season-ending injury. With the pressure on, Central Coast's all-time leading goal-scorer Matt Simon struggles to adapt to the A-League, which has improved since he left in 2011, and the Mariners' attacking set-up fails to fire.
"Mariners' money woes return, Arnie wants out"
While injuries can derail any campaign, the Mariners' depth and recruitment has seemingly plugged any gaps left by the departures of the likes of Mat Ryan, Patrick Zwaanswijk and Bernie Ibini-Isei. Arnold has experienced heads throughout his squad, plus plenty of talented youngsters to add some new zip to his champion side. Central Coast should be strong enough to finish in the top two and with their experience from last season, Arnold's men will be confident they can get the job done in sudden-death matches.
Champions [writer's prediction]