By Jack Sharp
A local derby between Waikato neighbours Cambridge and Claudelands Rovers will get the new-look Lotto NRFL Southern Conference underway this weekend.
The eight-club competition brings together two clubs from last season’s Lotto NRFL division two, and the best-performing clubs from the WaiBOP Premiership.
Cambridge and Claudelands Rovers, the two teams from the previous second division, meet at John Kerkhof Park, where Rovers coach Paul Richardson will be eager to claim three points from his previous club.
READ MORE: Paul Richardson to take head coach’s role at Claudelands Rovers >>>>
The game starts early, at 2pm, because Cambridge have 75th Jubilee celebrations to follow in the evening.
New coach Jordan Shaw joins Cambridge from Hamilton Wanderers for the new season.
READ MORE: Cambridge appoint Jordan Shaw as head coach for club’s 75th anniversary season >>>>
In other games, WaiBOP Premiership title holders Waikato Unicol will host Ngongotaha Lakes, a new entity representing Ngongotaha FC and Lakes FC, from Rotorua.
Papamoa will have former All White Mark Cossey in the dug out, with the coach crossing the Kaimai Ranges from Claudelands Rovers.
READ MORE: Former All White Mark Cossey makes switch from Rovers to Papamoa >>>>
Te Awamutu’s new coach, Anthony Meiklejohn, and assistant Joe Gifford have joined from Cambridge, and have signed half a dozen players from their former club.
READ MORE: Te Awamutu appoint new coaching duo ahead of NRFL Southern Conference >>>>
Game of the week
Cambridge and Claudelands Rovers have traditionally served up close games, often with plenty of goals.
Both are ambitious and want to get into the Lotto NRFL Championship at the first attempt; a flying start is important for both clubs.
Don’t be surprised if it’s a 2-2 or 3-3 draw, with goals coming late.
Mark Cossey sides are always well-drilled and capable of running up big scores, if allowed.
The former Hamilton Wanderers and Claudelands Rovers coach will take his new side to Taupo and we’ll learn much about both from their season opener.
I’m tipping a big win to Papamoa.
Player to watch
Left-sided midfielder Kyran Lockwood (Te Awamutu) has returned to New Zealand after his first year with Wheeling University, West Virginia.
He’s 18, has played previously for Melville United and Cambridge, and will add plenty to Te Awamutu’s attacking options.
Games to be played on Saturday March 25, 2023
Cambridge v Claudelands Rovers
John Kerkhof Park, Cambridge 2pm
Taupo v Papamoa
Crown Park, Taupo, 3pm
Te Awamutu v Otumoetai
The Stadium, Te Awamutu, 3pm
Waikato Unicol v Ngongotaha Lakes
Jansen Park, Hamilton, 3pm