Home » Grand Final Preview: Six Mariners v Victory storylines to watch as 2021 omen looms large

Grand Final Preview: Six Mariners v Victory storylines to watch as 2021 omen looms large

PREVIEW: Two major Australian football narratives will be at play in this Saturday night’s Isuzu UTE A-League Grand Final between Central Coast Mariners and Melbourne Victory. Only one can come to pass.

The stage is set for the 2023-24 Isuzu UTE A-League Grand Final.

Central Coast Mariners will host Melbourne Victory in this season’s title decider, in a battle between the Premiers and third-place finishers.

For the Mariners, it’s the chance to secure an unprecedented trophy treble. For Melbourne Victory, it’s an opportunity to go level with Sydney FC with the most title wins in the competition’s history.

Read on for a full preview of the 2024 Grand Final, including the big pre-game talking points, along with ticket and broadcast details.

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When can I buy tickets?

Tickets for the 2024 Isuzu UTE A-League Men Grand Final will go on sale at 9:00am AEST on Monday 20 May for home and away club members, followed by the general public on sale at 11:00am AEST on Tuesday 21 May via www.ticketek.com.au.

Club home and away members will also have access to a 10% discount for a 24 hour window from when tickets first go on sale at 9:00am AEST on Monday 20 May.

To guarantee your seat and secure the ultimate Isuzu UTE A-League Grand Final experience visit https://aleagueshospitality.com.au

How can I watch the Grand Final?

The 2024 Isuzu UTE A-League Men Grand Final will be telecast in Australia live on Network 10 and streamed exclusively on 10 Play and Paramount+, while New Zealand viewers will be able to watch the Grand Final live on Sky Sport. 

A-Leagues All Stars play THIS WEEKEND! Get your tickets today

The storylines

Mariners’ treble quest and what it means

The treble hunt is on for the Mariners as Mark Jackson’s side pursue a third trophy in 2023-24.

Central Coast finished top of the table to clinch the Premiers Plate, and just days later travelled to Oman to take on Al Ahed in the final of the AFC Cup. The Mariners’ Asian campaign, in which the A-Leagues club clocked up roughly 100,00 kilometres of travel, ended in glory as victory secured a second piece of silverware for the Gosford outfit.

Winning Saturday night’s Isuzu UTE A-League Grand Final would not only secure a trophy treble but back-to-back Championships for a club that endured significant squad turnover in the off-season.

Title-winning head coach Nick Montgomery left the club, along with several star players including Jason Cummings, Samuel Silvera, Nectar Triantis, Beni N’Kololo and James McGarry. Marco Tulio stayed on, but left the club just months into the new campaign.

The 2023-24 Mariners have some semblance of last season’s Championship winners, but they are a different entity to the squad that trounced Melbourne City 6-1 in the 2023 Grand Final.

A trophy treble would be a significant achievement for the Mariners. The club took the upheaval of the playing group and staff in its stride, and traversed a continent to become just the second A-Leagues club to win a trophy in AFC competition.

The Premiers Plate was earned off the back of a 23-game unbeaten streak which followed four consecutive losses to start the season. This is a team that fought itself out of a corner and is is now on course to win three major trophies in a single campaign – something no A-Leagues club has ever managed before.

Popa’s Grand Final hoodoo

Tony Popovic has been to four Isuzu UTE A-League Grand Finals as a head coach, and four times he’s lost.

This weekend the Melbourne Victory boss will look to banish the past and write a new chapter in his managerial story by lifting the Championship trophy aloft at Industree Group Stadium.

Popovic tasted Grand Final defeat on three occasions at Western Sydney Wanderers:

  • 2013: Popovic’s Wanderers finished first, and hosted the Grand Final against Central Coast. The Mariners won 2-0 in front of 42,102 fans at Sydney Football Stadium.
  • 2014: Popovic’s Wanderers finished second, behind Brisbane Roar and the two teams met in the Grand Final. The Wanderers led 1-0 in the second half but Brisbane ultimately won 2-1 after 30 minutes of additional extra time, with Henrique bagging the winner at Suncorp Stadium.
  • 2016: Adelaide United won the Premiership/Championship double in 2016, and having pipped the Wanderers to top spot by just one point, hosted Popovic’s side in the Grand Final and eased to a 3-1 win.
Popovic with then-Mariners head coach Graham Arnold in 2013.

After five seasons at Western Sydney, Popovic left the club just one week out from the 2017-18 season’s commencement, taking on a new role in Turkey at Karabukspor. But before long he was back in Australia as Perth Glory head coach, where he reached a fourth Grand Final in his first season at the West Australian club.

  • 2019: Popovic took his new-look Glory to the Premiership and a home Grand Final in his first season at the helm. His squad laden with Socceroos talent hosted Sydney FC but in front of more than 60,000 fans at Optus Stadium, lost via a penalty shootout after a goalless 120 minutes.
Popovic prior to the 2019 Isuzu UTE A-League Grand Final.

But there is one positive omen for Popovic ahead of Saturday’s decider…

Popovic has in fact gone to five, not four, domestic finals as a head coach in Australia.

To go with his four Isuzu UTE A-League Grand Final defeats, Popovic has also been to one Australia Cup Final – and on that occasion, he was triumphant.

In 2021, Popovic took Victory to the Australia Cup final and in his first season at the helm, secured a trophy for his new club – and that title win came against none other than the Central Coast Mariners.

Jason Davidson and Chris Ikonomidis scored the goals for Victory in a 2-1 win over Central Coast at AAMI Park; Oli Bozanic snatched a late consolation goal for the visitors as Popovic’s side claimed the Australia Cup trophy.

Reporter’s ‘unsalvageable season’ question highlights Mariners’ incredible journey

Four rounds into the 2023-24 Isuzu UTE A-League season, Central Coast Mariners’ record read: four games played, two goals scored, nine goals conceded, zero wins, zero draws, four defeats.

No team in the league had ever bounced back from four consecutive defeats through the first four rounds and gone on to win a trophy – until the Mariners did exactly that with their Premiership triumph.

Jackson’s side lost to Adelaide, Macarthur, Perth and Brisbane Roar to start the season; a 2-1 home defeat to the Roar on November 12 was the fourth on the bounce and in his post-match press conference, Jackson was asked by a reporter: “How are you viewing the season – is it almost unsalvageable at this point? How optimistic are you?”

“I’m always optimistic, you have to be as a coach.” Jackson replied.

“You say it’s unsalvageable – we’ve played four games. We’re not where we want to be, we haven’t got a point on the table, which is frustrating, it’s disappointing. It’s not where we want to be as a club. But we believe in what we’re doing, I believe in what we’re doing, the players believe in that as well.”

The Mariners went on to lose just two of 23 league games from that moment on to surge to the Premiership – all the while competing games all around Asia en route to the AFC Cup title.

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A tale of two veterans

Good luck finding two players that better represent their respective clubs than Melbourne Victory’s Leigh Broxham and Central Coast Mariners’ Danny Vukovic.

Broxham is the ultimate one-club player. The Isuzu UTE A-Leagues’ games record holder has made more than 450 appearances for Victory in domestic and continental competition over 18 seasons, and after announcing his imminent retirement in April, could make the last appearance of his career in Sunday’s Grand Final.

Then, there’s Vukovic.

The 39-year-old was a Central Coast Mariner in the very first season of the Isuzu UTE A-League and, 19 years later, is gunning for his second-consecutive title as captain of the club.

Whichever team wins Saturday’s Grand Final, you’re guaranteed to see very special scenes both on and off the field centred on these two A-Leagues greats.

Suspension over for Victory star

Melbourne Victory midfielder Zinédine Machach is free to play in Saturday’s Grand Final after serving a two-game ban for a red card collected in his side’s win over Melbourne City in the Elimination Finals.

Machach was sent off for violent conduct, after kicking out at City winger Leo Natel and Football Australia’s independent Match Review Panel concluded he had committed the offence of “Assault on a player (e.g. violent conduct when not challenging for the ball) or against any other person other than a Match Official, including an attempted Assault”.

After reviewing the incident, the MRP dealt Machach the minimum two-game ban, ruling him out for both legs of Victory’s Semi-Final bout with Wellington Phoenix. But a 2-1 aggregate triumph over the Phoenix means Machach makes a timely return to the selection table ahead of the title decider.

The French midfielder has been one of Victory’s best performers this season, scoring seven goals and notching five assists.

Key battles: Mariners v Victory

Kaltak v Fornaroli

Bruno Fornaroli has never won an Isuzu UTE A-League Grand Final, and if the Socceroos striker hopes to put his name on the scoresheet against the Mariners in pursuit of that illusive first title, he’ll have to best defensive star Brian Kaltak.

The Vanuatu international is Central Coast’s rock at the back and his duel with Victory’s prolific striker, who has bagged 18 goals this season – but hasn’t scored in six games leading into the Grand Final.

Nisbet v Teague

Two young Australian talents are set to go head-to-head in an intriguing midfield battle on Saturday night.

Olyroo Ryan Teague has been a shining light in his first season at Victory and has only improved as the season’s rolled on.

Teague won Victory’s Player of the Match award in both of their Semi-Final legs against Wellington Phoenix. Opta data revealed the 22-year-old has been involved in 15 open play attacking sequences in the Finals Series – more than any other player.

Coming up against Teague in midfield is Mariners star Josh Nisbet, one of this season’s best performers around the league who could easily be the difference maker in this weekend’s title decider.

Nisbet scored one of his three goals for the season in the first leg of the Mariners’ 2-1 aggregate Semi-Final win over Sydney FC; his nine assists for the season are the most league-wide – two-more than Victory’s best creator (Daniel Arzani – seven assists)

Josh Nisbet (left) and Ryan Teague.

Izzo v Vukovic

The spectre of a penalty shootout looms over every Grand Final – and considering Victory keeper Paul Izzo’s form throughout the current Finals Series, Central Coast should be doing everything in their power to avoid their Championship hopes resting on spot kicks.

Izzo starred in Victory’s penalty shootout win over Melbourne City in the Elimination Finals and produced more heroics in the second leg of the Semi-Finals, saving an Alex Rufer penalty in the second half of regular time to help his side shock the Phoenix and progress to the decider.

Vukovic will don the gloves and the captain’s armband for the Mariners and his performance will set the tone for the reigning Champions. Vukovic is one of the great A-Leagues leaders and will spend the majority of Saturday’s Grand Final barking instructions to his teammates in between big saves.

In a tight contest, a slight mistake from either Izzo or Vukovic could have drastic repercussions and it will be enthralling to watch which keeper blinks first.

Farrell v Arzani

Melbourne Victory forward Daniel Arzani pops up on the left and right of his side’s attack – and at stages throughout Saturday’s Grand Final, he’ll line up directly on Mariners left-back Jacob Farrell.

Farrell is a sensational young defender with the athletic, physical and technical attributes to contend with a winger like Arzani, who looked Victory’s most dangerous attacking outlet for large portions of the second-leg of their Semi-Final against Wellington.

Arzani has seven assists and four goals to his name in his first season at Victory; you can just feel the 25-year-old is capable of producing an unforgettable Grand Final moment – but Farrell is equally capable of dousing his flame in an uncompromising defensive display.

Jacob Farrell and Daniel Arzani.

Head-to-head this season

Round 6: Central Coast Mariners 2-2 Melbourne Victory

Bruno Fornaroli scored one of the goals of the season as Victory came from behind to lead the Mariners in Gosford, before conceding a second-half equaliser in a 2-2 draw.

Unite Round: Central Coast Mariners 1-1 Melbourne Victory

Daniel Arzani opened the scoring at Allianz Stadium but an 89th-minute Jing Reec strike ensured the points were shared once again between these two sides.

Round 18: Melbourne Victory 0-1 Central Coast Mariners

The Mariners took the spoils in this Round 18 encounter, and it was a Ryan Teague own goal that gave Mark Jackson’s side all three points.