Promotion hopefuls Ngaruawahia United have signed veteran midfielder Mario Bilen on the eve of their first Lotto NRFL promotion play-off clash with Papakura City.
Bilen (37) left Auckland City last month after helping the club win 28 major honours and league titles in his eight years at Kiwitea Street.
When the Navy Blues announced his departure, Bilen told the club website:
“I’m not finished playing yet, to be clear. There are a few other clubs who have spoken with me.
“I still feel I want to take on a challenge as a player at a club that wants to do things and get involved with.
“I have choices and there are a few good clubs there. We’ll see what happens.”
‘Bilen’s experience will give the Green Army a major boost’
Ngaruawahia have signed the former Croatian age group international in time for game one in the promotion series, at Papakura City’s McLennan Park on Tuesday (7.30pm).
The second leg is at Ngaruawahia’s Centennial Park on Saturday March 26 (2pm).
The winner on aggregate score will join this season’s Lotto NRFL second division.
Bilen’s experience will give the Green Army a major boost.
He played 168 games for Auckland City, scoring six goals and winning the OFC Champions League five times, the New Zealand Football Championship four times, as well as the OFC President’s Cup, the Nike Lunar New Year Cup and the Charity Cup six times.
Bilen broke into the Croatian age-group side at the same time as Luka Modrić, now established as the captain of the Croatian national team and who plays for La Liga club Real Madrid.
He signed with Auckland City after a professional career in Albania and Croatia.
Apart from a brief stint with Glenfield Rovers, Bilen has played for Bay Olympic and Auckland City.
Papakura City v Ngaruawahia United
McLennan Park, Papakura
7.30pm, Tuesday March 22
GK 1. Roneel LAL, 3. Kieran NEVEY, 6. Argyle MORLING, 7. Keenan PETERS (c), 8. Munit KRISHNA, 9. Logan DIXON, 10. Christopher Clark, 12. Kartik KUMAR, 13. Prashneel ROY, 15. Sam HART, 18. Denver MACDONALD, 2. David ALLAN, 4. Bradley MORRISON, 11. Canaan EDWARDS, 16. Campbell MORLING, 17. Cory MACKAY.
Head coach: Preston PETERS, assistant coach: Keagan HARKER, assistant coach: Ben HILL, team manager: Clare ELSON.
GK 1. Patrick STEELE, 2. Blake WISNEWSKI, 7. Alfie COLE, 8. Jack MARDEN, 9. Jack CONNOR, 11. Calum CAMPBELL (c), 12. Leonel EITO, 13. Federico MARQUEZ, 16. Mario BILEN, 17. Tawhirimatea BALL, 20. Ellie NGUNGAMBILI. 3. Scott REID, 5. Caedon ROGERS, 10. Daniel NGUNGAMBILI, 15. Nathanael WRACK, 19. Samual NAHNA.
Head coach: Kyle PARK, assistant coach: Matthew MILNER, assistant coach: Dave EMONDSON, physio: Elliot COOPER, team manager: Eamonn MUNSTER.
Referee: Brandon DAY, assistant referee: Charlie TSENG, assistant referee: Reza AL RABEA.