By Jack Sharp
The second round of Northern League brings together four unbeaten sides in head-to-head matches that will help sort out the competition’s early contenders.
Promoted sides Manurewa and West Coast Rangers meet after both won their opening games last weekend, while title favourites Auckland City host round 1 winners Bay Olympic.
Already, the competition looks like being tighter than last year when North Shore United and Waiheke United soon became obvious relegation candidates.
Half of last weekend’s games were decided by one-goal margins; only Auckland City won by more than two goals (a 4-0 win against Western Springs).
READ MORE: Last weekend’s results and scorers >>>>
Here’s how the weekend’s games shape up …
Game of the week
Pick of the week for neutrals has to be the clash between Manurewa and West Coast Rangers at War Memorial Park.
Both sides won their opening bouts last week, showing the step up from last year’s Lotto NRFL division one isn’t beyond them.
The preparation for their returns to Northern League took very different courses.
Rangers head coach Chad Coombes was quick to lock in most of his squad before Christmas, adding a few key signings and a smooth pre-season campaign.
In their opener, Rangers were in front from the 10th minute, and made sure of a 3-1 win against Hamilton Wanderers when 39-year-old Allan Pearce scored to show he’s still capable at this level.
Manurewa changed their coaching staff for the new season but started with an upset win in the competition, beating last year’s runners-up Birkenhead United 4-2.
Rangers are likely to go into this game well-prepared and confident.
The big question is whether last Sunday’s win for Manurewa was a one-match wonder, or was it a sign they can be a top-half team, or better, this year?
There’s plenty at stake for a game so early in the season, and this game could go either way.
Player to watch
Angus Killkolly was troubled by injury last season but showed signs of good form in the OFC Champions League play-offs early this month.
Last weekend, against Western Springs, Kilkolly managed a full 90 minutes, scoring twice in the Navy Blues’ 4-0 win at Kiwitea Street.
City are at home again in round 2, hosting Bay Olympic who conceded two goals (to Manukau United) last week.
This looks the perfect game for Killkolly to assume early favouritism for the league’s Golden Boot.
Western Springs lost 4-0 last weekend, to Auckland City, and on Friday night, they play Eastern Suburbs under the lights at Seddon Fields.
Suburbs snatched a late win at Melville United in round 1.
On the basis of these results, Suburbs should be favourites to win.
But don’t be surprised if Springs, on their home turf, show a more resilient approach and earn a draw, or better, against the Lilywhites.
My prediction: 1-1.
Nailed it: Last week, I correctly tipped a 3-1 win to West Coast Rangers against Hamilton Wanderers.
Game to be played on Friday March 31, 2023
Western Springs v Eastern Suburbs
Seddon Fields, Westmere, 7.30pm
Games to be played on Saturday April 1, 2023
Auckland City v Bay Olympic
Kiwitea Street, Sandringham, 3pm
Takapuna v Melville United
Taharoto Park, Takapuna, 3pm
Hamilton Wanderers v Auckland United
Porritt Stadium, Hamilton, 3pm
Manukau United v Birkenhead United
Mangere Centre Park, Mangere, 3pm
Manurewa v West Coast Rangers
War Memorial Park, Manurewa, 3pm
Jack Sharp is a long-time follower of club football in New Zealand and is a volunteer writer for Friends of Football. He’s filling in this week for our usual Northern League writer, Jonno Ross.