By Jack Sharp
Lotto NRFL second division title chasers Hibiscus Coast and Bucklands Beach need to win on the road this weekend to keep unbeaten leaders Ngaruawahia United in their sights.
Coast have a tricky trip to Hamilton to play the inconsistent Claudelands Rovers, while Bucklands Beach head to West Auckland who are fighting to keep alive their own chances of staying in the race for the top.
It makes for another exciting weekend for spectators, while at the other end of the table, two sides will meet in a battle that may well decide which gets the season’s wooden spoon.
Here’s our preview of the round:
Beachlands Maraetai (9th) v Oratia United (10th)
Te Puru Park, Beachlands
The strength of a competition is usually judged by the standard of its top teams but this year’s second division can also be measured by the performance of its lower-ranked sides.
Put simply, Beachlands Maraetai and Oratia United might be the bottom teams but both can be more than competitive on their day.
Last weekend, for instance, Beachlands Maraetai last 4-3 to title-chasers Hibiscus Coast. The previous week, they resisted unbeaten leaders Ngaruawahia United for long spells before losing 2-0.
Last Saturday, Oratia took the lead against Ngaruawahia before two second-half goals gave the title favourites their 3-1 win. And in the previous round, Oratia went down 2-0 at Northland.
None of these results suggest Beachlands Maraetai or Oratia are cannon fodder for other teams to take for granted.
In fact, it’s a shame one of them will almost certainly hold the wooden spoon and both could drop out of the competition depending on its potential restructure for next year.
This week, they go head-to-head and we think it’ll be a cracking game, with pride at stake and both sides keen to salvage something from their season.
Both teams deserve credit for the way they’ve kept fighting for results, regardless of their table position.
I’m picking an entertaining draw for this one — say, 2-2.
Other fixtures (with current league placings)
Ngaruawahia United (1st) v Cambridge (8th)
Centennial Park, Ngaruawahia, 3pm
Northland (6th) v Franklin United (5th)
Trigg Arena, Whangarei, 3pm
West Auckland (4th) v Bucklands Beach (2nd)
Brains Park, Auckland, 3pm
Claudelands Rovers (7th) v Hibiscus Coast (3rd)
Galloway Park, Hamilton, 3pm
How they stand
Last weekend’s games
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