Women’s football will decide which team carries the title of ‘national champions’ when Eastern Suburbs and Western Springs go head-to-head in Sunday’s Grand Final.
The Auckland clubs meet at Mt Smart Stadium to decide which club will win the 2022 Women’s National League in its new format.
Eastern Suburbs go into the match as favourites, having won the 14-round home and away programme, and having the better record over the five meetings between the two sides this calendar year.
Main photo: Rina Hirano and Arisa Takeda will play their last games for Springs in the final, before heading overseas.
Suburbs will be led by the league’s Golden Boot winner Tayla O’Brien who has the ability to drop into different positions to suit the match, from deep midfield to leading the forward line.
O’Brien was helped off the pitch two weeks ago, when she suffered an ankle injury against Southern United.
Though named on the subs’ bench for last weekend’s game against Western Springs, she wasn’t needed.
Encouragingly, O’Brien was kitted out in the team photograph taken at Suburbs’ final training session ahead of the final.
Western Springs will have three of their key players available for the final after earlier reports suggested they would be leaving for overseas, and miss the big match.
Rina Hirano, Emma Pijnenburg and Arisa Takeda have all been essential components in a Springs side that has scored 45 goals in the national league.
Coach Ryan Faithfull told Springs supporters in a social media video: “I think all three are key players within our team, within our club, and have all served Western Springs for a long time.”
He said Hirano and Takeda had been with the club five years and “they embrace the soul of our team.”
Up front, striker Sofia Gracia is Springs’ leading goalscorer and she has a good strike rate against Suburbs.
Fans rally for their big day
Eastern Suburbs are hosting a fan zone at their Madills Farm home, inviting supporters to gather there from 11.30am.
The club will provide free face painting and signmaking service, and provide a free supporters’ bus service on a first come, first served basis.
Western Springs are running a supporters bus from Seddon Fields at 1pm. Bookings are needed via a form on Springs’ Twitter feed.
The club’s providing free face painting and help with signs.
The finalists have met five times in 2022 — three games in the Lotto NRFL Women’s Premier League and twice in the Women’s National League.
Eastern Suburbs have the slight edge, winning three of the games while Springs have won twice.
Suburbs have found the net 12 times, compared to Springs’ nine goals.
Lilywhites Tayla O’Brien and Deven Jackson have each scored three times against Springs.
Western Springs’ top scorer, Sofia Garcia, has scored three times against Suburbs while Rina Hirano has scored twice against them.
Here’s how their 2022 fixtures have resulted:
Game played on Friday April 22, 2022
Western Springs 3 (Rina Hirano 8′, Sophia Dyer 47′, Sofia Garcia 88′)
Eastern Suburbs 1 (Tayla O’Brien 53′)
Game played Sunday May 15, 2022.
Eastern Suburbs 3 (Saki Yoshida 3′, Deven Jackson 48′, Rebekah Van Dort 57′)
Western Springs 0
Game played on Friday August 19, 2022
Western Springs 2 (Sofia Garcia 12′, Rina Hirano 34′)
Eastern Suburbs 1 (Jade Parris 45′)
Game played on Friday October 28, 2022
Western Springs 2 (Lara Colpi 74′, Arisa Takeda 86′)
Eastern Suburbs 4 (Tayla O’Brien 16′, 69′, Deven Jackson 30′, Charlotte Carroll 48′)
Game played on Friday December 9, 2022
Eastern Suburbs 3 (Nicole Mettam 15′, Deven Jackson 38′, Nicole Cooper 55′)
Western Springs 2 (Sam Tawharu 35′, Sofia Garcia 43′)
Game to be played on Sunday December 18, 2022
Women’s National League Grand Final
Eastern Suburbs v Western Springs
Mt Smart Stadium, Penrose, Auckland, 2pm
Watch live: This game will be broadcast live on Sky Sport 2.
Kiwi Football Fix preview
The Grand Final featured on this week’s edition of Sky Sport’s Kiwi Football Fix. Here’s the segment: