By Jonno Ross
The chips go down this weekend as the big guns all play each other in the Lotto NRFL first division — games that will likely sway the title and promotion hopes of all the main players.
West Coast Rangers, who have led the competition all season, could lose top spot if toppled by Manurewa who are chasing a 10-match unbeaten streak.
And tucked in behind, fourth-placed East Coast Bays play third-placed Tauranga City in a match that neither can afford to lose.
Here’s our preview of the round:
Manurewa (2nd) v West Coast Rangers (1st)
Jellicoe Park 1, Auckland
Only two points behind leaders West Coast Rangers, Manurewa have the opportunity this week to earn top-of-the league status.
The South Aucklanders are on a nine-game unbeaten run — the longest streak out of any team in the competition this season.
They will be hungry to make it 10 games undefeated but come up against a side who gave them their last defeat, when Rangers came away with the three points in a 1-0 win.
Manurewa seem to be getting stronger, especially over their last five games, scoring 16 goals and conceding just twice, and keeping three clean sheets.
It is this sort of form they will need to bring into their fixture this weekend if they are to stand a chance of moving into the top spot, but with their defensive game on point, and their strike force firing on all cylinders, they will be confident they can get the job done.
West Coast Rangers will hope their recent poor form is more a speed wobble, rather than a sign the wheels are starting to fall off.
They have picked up only three points from their last available nine, and they are coming off the back of just their third defeat of the season.
Last week, they were kept scoreless for the first time this year, going 2-0 down to an in-form Mount Albert Ponsonby side.
Former Auckland City legend and current Rangers’ coach Chad Coombes will no doubt be working on getting his team back to the early-season form which saw his side go six games undefeated, with a tight backline keeping clean sheets in five of those games.
Despite their recent form, it’s hardly panic stations for Coombes. His side still have the best defensive record in the league, having kept their opponents scoreless in 10 out of their 15 league games, and remain favourites to earn promotion come the end of the season.
A loss this week would see them concede their position on top of the league and into second, but a win would see them go five points clear of Manurewa.
My prediction is a 1-0 win again for West Coast, snapping Rewa’s winning streak.
East Coast Bays (4th) v Tauranga City (3rd)
Bay City Park, Auckland
Since their 2-1 loss to Mount Albert Ponsonby in round 12, East Coast Bays have recovered strongly, going the next three games undefeated with a draw and two wins.
The wins included beating league leaders West Coast Rangers 2-1.
Those results now see them 4th the league, and they will be looking at a late push for promotion, but like Northern Rovers, Mount Albert Ponsonby, and Onehunga Mangere, every game from here on in as a must-win to even stand a small chance of catching the top two.
One more loss for East Coast Bays would see any dreams of promotion go out the window, leaving their next goal for the remainder of the season to battle it out for the ‘best of the rest’.
They face a difficult opponent this week in Tauranga City, to whom they lost the reverse fixture 3-0. However, beating them 3-2 in round two of the Chatham Cup will have restored their confidence.
Four of Bays’ next five games are against teams in the top half of the table, including a double against Manurewa, so if they want to make a go of it, they must come out this weekend with a result.
Tauranga City find themselves in a similar predicament to East Coast Bays, knowing that any dropped points could see any hopes of promotion slip out of their reach.
This weekend’s game is one of the biggest of their season so far, as they will know that there will be dropped points between Manurewa and West Coast Rangers, and being only five points behind Manurewa, they will feel like this game against Bays doesn’t have an option — they must win.
The gap between themselves and second could be closed to just two points with a win, but if they lose and Rewa win, that gap extends to 8 points, making it extremely difficult to come back from.
So much on the line in this week; some teams will go home happy, some will go home crying.
Other fixtures (with current league placings)
Games to be played on Saturday July 23, 2022
Mount Albert Ponsonby (6th) v Onehunga Mangere (7th)
Anderson Park, Auckland, 3pm
Waitemata (12th) v Northern Rovers (5th)
McLeod Park, Auckland, 3pm
Fencibles United (9th) v Metro (8th)
Riverhills Park, Auckland, 3pm
Albany United (11th) v Ellerslie (10th)
Rosedale Park, Auckland, 3pm
How they stand
Last weekend’s games
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.