Commerce and Economics student Max Balard gained a starting spot in the Central Coast Mariners’ derby against foes from up the highway, the Newcastle Jets, coming on in the 83rd minute of his side's 2-1 win.

Calem Nieuwenhof and Patrick Yazbek both earned bench spots with Sydney FC in their season-opening nil-all draw local derby against Western Sydney Wanderers, who named 18-year-old UNSW student Mark Natta as one of their reserves.  

For the first time, the A-League this season became the Men's A-League after a brand refresh to become more inclusive in the off-season.

After progressing through the Youth and Premier leagues, 20-year-old Nieuwenhof enjoyed what has been described as a break-out season in the last 12 months, highlighted by a right-foot bullet into the top-left corner at Wollongong’s WIN Stadium, his first in the A-League, that was named Goal of the Season.  

Nieuwenhof is nearing the completion of his Commerce degree which he started in 2019 and is a recipient of an Elite Athlete Sports Scholarship.

Balard, who recently turned 21, has just one full year remaining to complete his double degree in Commerce and Economics and has been a Ben Lexcen Scholar throughout.

Nieuwenhof and Balard – both made their A-League debuts last season and are midfielders for their respective sides – were recently referenced in an ABC season preview as two of 23 players under 23 whose eye-catching football talent was worth watching in 2021/22.

Yazbek, 19, another mid-fielder who was part of the Sydney FC Academy in recent seasons has this year begun a Bachelor of Construction Management and Property. 

Natta, a centre-back who celebrates his 19th birthday this Sunday, has just this year begun a Bachelor of Exercise Physiology.

Earlier this year, the Wanderers rookie gained praise from Socceroos’ coach Graham Arnold on The Global Game podcast describing Natta as “a kid that that’s come from nowhere over the last five months, so you imagine what he can be like further down the future”.

UNSW wishes all four young men well for what the season holds in store.

(Left-to-right, top-to-bottom) Mark Natta, Max Balard, Calem Nieuwenhof and Patrick Yazbek (Photo: A League/Getty).