By Luke Austin
Wellington Olympic host Miramar Rangers at Wakefield Park in an opening weekend clash between last season’s top two teams.
Defending champions Olympic will be desperate to kick off their Central League campaign with a win following their defeat to Auckland City in the two-legged OFC Champions League playoff.
Eyes will be drawn to Wembley Park (not Stadium!) as Whanganui Athletic play Petone in their first Central League game since the 1990s.
Whanganui, last season’s Central Federation League Champions, will hope for a positive start to the season after their unexpected promotion in late 2022.
In other games, newly-promoted Stop Out host Napier City Rovers, the Wellington Phoenix Reserves take on Waterside Karori in what is set to be a great match between two strong sides, and Western Suburbs make the short journey to face North Wellington.
Game of the week
Look no further than the clash between Wellington Olympic and Miramar Rangers for what should be an action-packed game full of goals and attacking football.
Despite the departure of prolific goalscorer Gianni Bouzoukis, Olympic have some serious firepower at their disposal after securing the services of Hamish Watson, whose 20 goals for Miramar last season earned him the title of Central League top goalscorer.
His recent switch between the two clubs will no doubt add extra spice to this fixture.
Miramar have lost some key players from the side that finished runners-up last season, though coach Kale Herbert looks to have recruited smartly in the off-season.
Notable arrivals include Jonty Roubos, who will look to make an instant impression against his previous club, Olympic, and former Melville United pair Luke Searle and Ryen Lawrence.
Despite being a relatively unknown force in the Central League, newcomers Whanganui Athletic have strengthened their team with solid signings and their pre-season form suggests Petone could be on the wrong end of an opening-day upset at Wembley Park.
I’m predicting a narrow win to Whanganui.
Player to watch
Left winger Joel Stevens has returned to New Zealand, joining Wellington Olympic following a spell playing professionally in Sweden. It remains to be seen whether the former Wellington Phoenix and All Whites player will remain at the club following their failure to progress to the OFC Champions League finals.
If he does, he will certainly be one to keep an eye on.
Games to played on Saturday March 25, 2023
Stop Out v Napier City Rovers
Hutt Park, Lower Hutt, 2.30pm
Whanganui Athletic v Petone
Wembley Park, Whanganui, 2.30pm
Wellington Phoenix Reserves v Waterside Karori
Fraser Park (Turf), Lower Hutt, 3pm
North Wellington v Western Suburbs
Alex Moore Artificial, Wellington, 3pm
Wellington Olympic v Miramar Rangers
Wakefield Park, Wellington, 3.45pm
The game between Wellington Olympic and Miramar Rangers will be live-streamed by NZ Football’s YouTube channel.
You can watch it here:
Luke Austin is a Wellington-based football fan and volunteer, who plays for Island Bay, and follows the Central League.