By Jack Sharp
Expect the unexpected in the early rounds of the Lotto NRFL Southern Conference.
More than half the sides are getting used to new coaches and new signings, while one team — Ngongotaha Lakes — is a new entity altogether, a joint venture between Ngongotaha and Lakes FC.
It’s likely we’ll see form reversals from some of the clubs, and it could be mid-April before true form comes through.
In the meantime, Waikato Unicol and Taupo look as though they’ve made the transition well from WaiBOP Premiership to the Conference with good wins in round one.
READ MORE: Last weekend’s results and scorers >>>>
Here’s how the weekend’s games shape up …
Game of the week
Claudelands Rovers and near-neighbours Waikato Unicol both won their opening day encounters by a 4-1 scoreline, and they meet on Saturday at Hamilton’s Ashurst Park.
It’ll be a good test for both sides, and likely to produce a few goals.
Rovers are one of two clubs in this competition who were in last season’s Lotto NRFL second division (the other was Cambridge), so a strong start is not a surprise.
But Unicol are making the step up from the WaiBOP Premiership which they won well last season, and they remain something of a dark horse.
Last weekend’s goalscorers were all former Claudelands Rovers players with ex-Rovers skipper Bailey Webster grabbing a double against new team Ngongotaha Lakes. Others to score were Dominick Edwards and Levi Clark.
All three players crossed town to sign for Unicol over summer.
Player to watch
Taupo’s Joe O’Donoghue cracked home a first-half hat-trick in his club’s 5-1 opening-day win against Papamoa.
O’Donoghue (29) was Taupo’s leading goalscorer last season with 17 goals in a 16-round competition.
He goes up against the Te Awamutu defence this week, and they conceded twice in last weekend’s 3-2 win against Otumoetai.
Waikato Unicol look capable of bringing last year’s outstanding form into the Southern Conference.
With former Claudelands Rovers players no doubt looking to score against their old club, it’s always going to get the adrenaline flowing.
I’m picking a 3-1 win to Unicol.
Last week, I tipped Papamoa to win well at Taupo. What was I thinking? Taupo buried Mark Cossey’s side 5-1. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
Games to be played on Saturday April 1, 2023
Taupo v Te Awamutu
Crowne Park, Taupo, 3pm
Waikato Unicol v Claudelands Rovers
Ashurst Park, Hamilton, 3pm
Cambridge v Otumoetai
John Kerkhof Park, Cambridge, 3pm
READ MORE: Here’s The Red Review, Cambridge’s match programme >>>>
Papamoa v Ngongotaha Lakes
Gordon Spratt Reserve, Papamoa, 3pm
Jack Sharp is a long-time follower of club football in New Zealand and is a volunteer writer for Friends of Football.