A two-legged promotion play-off series will decide the fates of Ngaruawahia United and Papakura City, two clubs both trying to return to Lotto NRFL competition.
Ngaruawahia are aiming to return after an absence of five years. They finished fifth in the second division in 2016 but resigned from the league as the club could not sustain its involvement.
However a change in fortunes has rejuvenated the Green Machine and they are the current WaiBOP Premiership champions, having beaten nearest rivals Waikato Unicol in the final game of last season.
They meet Papakura City who qualify for the play-offs as runners-up in last year’s NRF Conference, behind West Auckland who earned automatic promotion.
Papakura City were a Lotto NRFL first division club till 2016 when they were relegated to the bottom tier.
After struggling in that division, City were relegated again in 2018.
The first leg will be staged under lights at Papakura City’s McLennan Park on Tuesday March 22 (7.30pm).
The second leg will take place at Centennial Park, Ngaruawahia, on Saturday March 26 (2pm).
The original dates for the play-off series were postponed due to COVID-19 cases.
Ngaruawahia United’s preparation
Ngaruawahia began their build-up to the play-offs on February 12 with a game against Northern League team Melville United, losing 5-1.
After that, form improved with wins against Papatoetoe (3-0), Uni-Mount (9-1), Melville United (3-3) and a trip to the East coast where the side beat Gisborne Thistle 3-0.
The side has lost four members of its title-winning 2021 squad — centre backs Ben Moore (to Fencibles United), Johnny Konings (Australlia), midfielder Kenny Wilcox (Christchurch) and midfielder/physio Elliot Cooper (Hamilton Wanderers).
Papakura City’s preparation
Papakura played their first pre-season friendly against Lotto NRFL division 2 side Beachlands Maraetai.
They followed this with games against Bucklands Beach, South Auckland Rangers and Auckland City’s U-23 side.
In their last warm-up game, Papakura City lost 6-2 in the annual Manu Hudson Memorial game against Lotto NRFL division 1 team Manurewa AFC.
What’s at stake
The winner of the play-off series takes the final place in the Lotto NRFL’s second division.
They will join:
- Bucklands Beach (relegated from Division 1 last year)
- Beachlands Maraetai (3rd last year)
- Franklin United (4th)
- Hibiscus Coast (5th)
- Cambridge (6th)
- Northland (7th)
- Oratia United (8th)
- Claudelands Rovers (9th)
- West Auckland (promoted from NRF Conference)
West Auckland and the play-off winners will replace Uni-Mount Bohemian Celtic and Papatoetoe who were relegated last season. Greenhithe, who came 10th last year, withdrew from the competition over summer.
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Whatever happens in the play-offs, the 2022 second division will not have a single club from central Auckland.
If Ngaruawahia succeed, WaiBOP will have three entries (Cambridge, Claudelands, Ngaruawahia).
If Papakura City go up, their local derby will resume against Franklin United.
The promotion play-offs have produced some thrillers in years past due to the all-or-nothing nature of games with so much at stake.
Recent winners include Cambridge (2017), Onehunga Mangere United (2018) and Franklin United (2020).
Play-offs were not required in 2019 when Beachlands-Maraetai and Papatoetoe were promoted. WaiBOP Premiership champions Papamoa -— who were undefeated in 26 games back-to-back in 2019-20 — were denied the opportunity to go up because no winner was declared in the Auckland/NFF Conference.
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