By Jack Sharp
With no draws in round one, the 12-team Lotto NRFL Men’s Championship has quickly split into two groups.
All six sides who lost a week ago will be anxious not to be pointless by dinner time on Saturday.
The fixtures ensure a couple of them, at least, will get points but one or two clubs — even more — could be looking nervously ahead to Easter with no points in the bank.
READ MORE: Last weekend’s results and scorers >>>>
Here’s how the weekend’s games shape up …
Game of the week
The most intriguing game this weekend is between two clubs who were two leagues apart a year ago.
Hibiscus Coast were in the Lotto NRFL second division while North Shore United played in the Northern League.
Promotion for Coast and relegation for North Shore have brought these sides together in this year’s new-look NRFL Men’s Championship.
Hibiscus Coast got off to a perfect start in round one, travelling to Tauranga City for a 2-0 win. The Bay of Plenty side were among the best in last year’s competition, especially at home, and Coast did well to go home with a clean sheet.
Defender Emmanuel Darkwa scored both goals to celebrate his return to Coast after five seasons away, during which he played for Bay Olympic, North Shore United and Birkenhead United.
At their Stanmore Bay Park home ground, Coast have every chance of going two for two.
North Shore United lost 2-0 at home to Mt Albert Ponsonby in round 1. But MAP are expected to be among the big guns this year, so the defeat wasn’t altogether unexpected.
The game against Hibiscus Coast will be a better test of whether United will be competitive at this level.
Both sides have new coaches this season, with Nathan Cranney taking over as Coast’s new Technical Director.
Shore have Dylan Burns as their new coach, assisted by former All Whites captain Earle Thomas.
READ MORE: Read Hibiscus Coast’s latest issue of their Game Day club magazine >>>>
READ MORE: North Shore United go into NRFL Premiership season with new coach >>>>
Player to watch
Tom Durkin scored a first-week double to help get Ellerslie across the line 2-1 against relegated Waiheke United.
The attacking midfielder scored four during last year’s entire campaign, and it won’t take long to learn whether he’s just enjoying a good start or whether this could be his breakout year.
Durkin (23) was an Ellerslie youth player before heading south for spells with Dunedin club Caversham and Otago University and rejoining the Ponies last year.
WaiBOP teams Tauranga City and Ngaruawahia United lost their opening games, and they meet at Links Ave on Saturday.
It’s Tauranga’s second game at home; it’s Ngaruawahia’s second on the road.
I think that will suit Tauranga best, and I’m tipping a 2-1 or 3-2 home victory.
Last week, I tipped that both promoted sides would lose their season openers. Ngaruawahia United obliged with a 3-1 loss at East Coast Bays, but Hibiscus Coast surprised me with a 2-0 win at Tauranga City.
Games to be played on Saturday April 1, 2023
Ellerslie v Metro
Michaels Ave Reserve, Ellerslie, 3pm
Northern Rovers v Mount Albert Ponsonby
McFetridge Park, Glenfield, 3pm
Hibiscus Coast v North Shore United
Stanmore Bay Park, Stanmore Bay, 3pm
Tauranga City v Ngaruawahia United
Links Ave, Mt Maunganui, 3pm
Fencibles United v East Coast Bays
Riverhills Park, Pakuranga, 3pm
Waiheke United v Onehunga Mangere United
Onetangi Sports Complex, Waiheke Island, 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 Lotto NRFL Men’s Championship writer, Jonno Ross.