By Jonno Ross
Finally, the best two teams in Lotto NRFL division one — at least, so far this season — will go head-to-head this weekend.
West Coast Rangers and Tauranga City have fashioned the best records in a highly-competitive division and they meet at Links Ave on Saturday.
Meanwhile, there are opportunities for mid-table sides to emerge from the pack.
Here’s our preview of the round, with our recommendations for the neutral spectator:
Tauranga City (2nd) v West Coast Rangers (1st)
Links Ave Reserve,Tauranga
Home support might provide Tauranga City with the boost they’ll need to tip West Coast Rangers off the top of the table for the first time this season.
City had the chance to gain ground in the last round but could only manage to draw 0-0 against Waitemata.
This weekend, they can put that right.
It is certainly safe to say that Tauranga’s strong start to the season and position in the table is not a fluke -— they have lost only once this season and have drawn twice.
They are a disciplined side who stick to their structure.
Since winning four successive games by a single goal and not conceding any, West Coast Rangers’ winning run finally came to a halt when their momentum was disrupted by a postponement in round seven, due to COVID cases in the Onehunga Mangere United camp.
They resumed with a loss — some would say a surprising loss — going down 2-1 to an inconsistent Northern Rovers. Then they drew their catch-up game against Onehunga Mangere, conceding the equaliser in the last minute.
Five points dropped in two games; instead of leading the table by seven points, they now face their nearest rivals with a lead of just two points.
So everything to play for … a huge game for both teams.
As a Mt Albert Ponsonby fan, I am hoping for a draw but I think Rangers will get back to winning ways.
Bold prediction: 2-0 to Rangers.
Northern Rovers (6th) v Manurewa (5th)
McFetridge Park, Auckland
Apart from the two league leaders, division one is a tightly-clustered affair where a couple of good results can propel a side up the ladder.
This is even more evident when sides in mid-table face each other.
Rovers have been inconsistent of late. They’ve lost to Mt Albert Ponsonby, beaten leaders West Coast Rangers and drawn with Waitemata. So which version of Rovers will turn up this weekend?
Manurewa struggled in the early rounds, unable to win until round four.
Since then, they have seemingly found their rhythm, winning three of their last four games and lifting them from 10th (in round three) to fifth, and well poised to catch up with the leading sides.
Nicolas Bobadilla and Dylan Horgan have found their shooting boots in the last couple of games, including a Chatham Cup tie.
If they fire again, three points could take them as high as 3rd on the ladder, and people will start talking about them as promotion contenders once again.
Other fixtures (with current league placings)
Metro (12th) v Waitemata (9th)
Phyllis Street Reserve, 7.30pm
East Coast Bays (10th) v Ellerslie (4th)
Bay City Park, Auckland, 3pm
Onehunga Mangere (3rd) v Albany United (11th)
Mangere Domain, Auckland, 3pm
Fencibles (8th) v Mount Albert Ponsonby (7th)
Riverhills Park, Auckland, 3pm
How they stand
Last weekend’s games
Click here to read our round-up of results from last weekend >>>>
Friends of Football writer Jonno Ross is a former New Zealand U-20 goalkeeper who is the team manager for Mount Albert Ponsonby. He supports the All Whites, the Football Ferns, the Wellington Phoenix and Arsenal.
Our coverage of Northern League and Lotto NRFL men’s football is made possible through the support of our partners at Cube, specialists in print, design and signage. We encourage clubs and businesses to consider Cube when looking for professional help in their branding and promotional planning.