By Jack Sharp
No competition has been more difficult to follow this year than the Lotto NRFL Northern Conference.
After its false start and subsequent restart, the clubs had to pause the league last weekend for Chatham Cup fixtures.
Now, well into May, three of the sides have only played two games in the league schedule.
As a result, cup form might be the best guide as to how results might go in this weekend’s games.
Game of the week
The fickle fate of fixture scheduling sees Beachlands Maraetai host Albany United at Te Puru Park — a replay of their Chatham Cup tie from last Saturday.
Of the two, Albany will most want a re-run of the cup tie, which they won 1-0 thanks to a Jack Beguely goal in the 75th minute.
Bizarrely, this weekend will be the third time the teams have met this season. The first clash, also at Te Puru Park, was the April 1 match, drawn 2-2, and later voided when administrators decided the conference needed to start over.
Albany’s cup win was much-needed as the side have lost both their two league fixtures in the rebooted competition.
Worse, they have yet to score a goal in the league.
Until the cup loss, Beachlands Maraetai were looking dangerous with Aaron Parry and captain Alex Thurbon leading the goalscoring.
This game can pick up from where the cup tie left off.
There’s enough at stake for both clubs to ensure spectators will be entertained.
Player to watch
Sander Waterland, who was Golden Boot winner in last year’s Lotto NRFL second division, is already finding the net with ease, having scored five goals in the league for third-placed Bucklands Beach.
As well, he scored a first-half hat-trick in his side’s 9-0 routing of Waipuna in the first round of the Chatham Cup, earning a substitution at the break to rest him for games ahead.
The team has plenty of natural goalscorers, including Carl Burgoyne and Sean Latimer, but Waterland makes this team tick.
Franklin United are looking tasty this term, and are unbeaten in the league.
They also negotiated a potentially difficult Chatham Cup tie, winning well at Cambridge last weekend.
They are well-placed now to really hit their straps against a Northland side that seems out of form, and who were beaten 5-1 by Ellerslie in last weekend’s Chatham Cup.
I’m tipping this to be a one-sided affair — Franklin by a three-goal margin.
Games to be played on Saturday May 20, 2023
Beachlands Maraetai v Albany United
Te Puru Park, Beachlands, 3pm
Central United v Bucklands Beach
Kiwitea St, Sandringham, 3pm
Northland v Franklin United
Trigg Arena, Whangarei, 3pm
Oratia United v West Auckland
Parrs Park, Oratia, 3pm
Waitemata — Bye
Jack Sharp is a long-time follower of club football in New Zealand and is a volunteer writer for Friends of Football.